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Cancer Trends Progress Report – 2007 Update

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Prevention: Environmental Factors

General studies of people with high exposures to pesticides have found high rates of certain types of cancers.

This information is based on data from the 2005 Cancer Trends Progress Report.

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Pesticides and Cancer

Pesticides are chemicals used to eliminate or control unwanted or harmful insects, plants, fungi, animals, or microorganisms in order to protect food crops and other plants. Some pesticides have been classified as carcinogens. Chlordane and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) are possible human carcinogens. General studies of people with high exposures to pesticides, such as farmers, pesticide applicators, manufacturers, and crop dusters, have found high rates of blood and lymphatic system cancers; cancers of the lip, stomach, lung, brain, and prostate; as well as melanoma and other skin cancers.

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Possible carcinogens, pesticides chlordane and DDT and their metabolites, measured in human blood.

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Period – 1999–2002

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Concentrations of DDT (and its metabolites) have risen. Chlordane was measured in three metabolites. Concentrations of chlordane (and its metabolite, oxychlordane) have risen, and chlordanes (trans-nonachlor and heptachlor epoxide) have declined from 1999–2002. Pesticide levels in human metabolites were measured in a random sample of participants from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

Table P1. Blood (lipid-adjusted) concentrations of DDT and chlordane, nanogram/gram (ng/g), 1999-2002.

  1999-2000 (ng/g) 2001-2002 (ng/g)
Chlordane metabolites
oxychlordane 44.9 49.7
Trans-nonachlor 79.4 78.2
Heptachlor epoxide 23.9 21.6
DDE 1780.0 2320.0

Source: National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals,
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2005

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Most Recent Estimates

Blood concentrations (nanograms per gram, ng/g):

  • Chlordane
    • oxychlordane – 49.7 ng/g
    • trans-nonachlor – 78.2 ng/g
    • heptachlor epoxide – 21.6 ng/g
  • DDT(DDE) – 2320 ng/g

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Healthy People 2010 Targets

Reduce exposure of the population to pesticides, heavy metals, and other toxic chemicals, as measured by blood and urine concentrations of the substances or their metabolites.

  • Reduce chlordane (oxychlordane) from 44.9 ng/g to 31.4 ng/g.
  • Reduce chlordane (trans-nonachlor) from 79.4 ng/g to 55.6 ng/g.
  • Reduce chlordane (heptachlor epoxide) from 23.9 ng/g to 16.7 ng/g.
  • Reduce DDT (DDE) from 1780 ng/g to 1250 ng/g.

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Groups at Risk for Pesticide Exposure

Farmers, pesticide applicators, crop dusters, pesticide manufacturers, and home gardeners could be at high risk of exposure to pesticides. The general population may be exposed to low doses of pesticides from fruits and vegetables bought from the supermarket or from contaminated surface or ground water.

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Key Issues

National goals have been set, but not yet reached, to reduce pesticide exposure. To help prevent pesticide exposure, people who apply pesticides should follow application directions and wear appropriate personal protective equipment (gloves, masks, etc.). For the general public, washing fruits and vegetables with water also helps to reduce pesticide exposure.

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Additional Information on Pesticides

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