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Medical College of Wisconsin Researchers Seeking Ways to Prevent Pesticide-Induced Cancer in Wisconsin Farm Families

Medical College of Wisconsin Researchers Seeking Ways to Prevent Pesticide-Induced Cancer in Wisconsin Farm Families

A study currently underway at the Medical College of Wisconsin is looking at why farmers do or do not follow safe-use guidelines when applying pesticides and is measuring their levels of pesticide exposure.

Exposure to agricultural pesticides through skin absorption, inhalation, and ingestion can increase risk of cancer. Chemical companies include warnings and handling guidelines; however, previous studies have shown that many farmers fail to follow the directions.

From the data gathered in this study, says lead researcher Melissa Perry, ScD, researchers intend to develop an educational program which they hope will encourage farmers to use safe application procedures, thus lowering exposure and cancer risk. Dr. Perry is assistant professor of psychiatry and associate director of cancer prevention and control at the Medical College of Wisconsin Cancer Center.

The study, involving 575 farm families, is taking place in south central Wisconsin, including Columbia, Dodge, Dane, Jefferson, Green, and Rock counties.

Farmers are being interviewed to find out how much protection they use when applying pesticides and why they don't use more. "As with other health behaviors we have to determine why people engage in behavior that might compromise their health and increase their risks for disease," says Dr. Perry. "Is it because they don't perceive the pesticides to be harmful? Is it because it costs too much to use protective equipment? Or is it something else?"

Blood and urine samples will also be taken from the farmers to determine their level of pesticide exposure.

Cancer Prevention Education to Follow

After the data are collected, a cancer prevention education program will be developed. The farmers in the study will be randomly assigned to two groups. One of the groups will be given pesticide education; the other will be a control group. In a follow-up study, researchers will try to determine whether or not the farmers who get the educational program actually reduce their levels of pesticide exposure.

In addition, the farmers' wives and adult daughters will be given a separate educational program to increase their knowledge of pesticide risk and raise their awareness of cancer prevention and early detection strategies through nutritional information, breast self-examinations and mammograms.

Results from the 4-year study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, will be available at the end of 1999.

"We are responding to farm health needs through a prevention program," Dr. Perry says. "We're not only describing a problem--pesticide risk--but we're also attempting to reduce exposure through education."

Dr. Perry presented her study at the 14th annual Media Seminar on Cancer at the Medical College of Wisconsin. The seminar is cosponsored by the American Cancer Society-Wisconsin Division and the MACC (Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer) Fund Research Center.

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