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

June 1, 1996

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

A study currently underway at the Medical College of Wisconsinis looking at why farmers do or do not follow safe-use guidelineswhen applying pesticides and is measuring their levels of pesticideexposure.

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

From the data gathered in this study, says lead researcher MelissaPerry, ScD, researchers intend to develop an educational programwhich they hope will encourage farmers to use safe applicationprocedures, thus lowering exposure and cancer risk. Dr. Perryis assistant professor of psychiatry and associate director ofcancer prevention and control at the Medical College of WisconsinCancer Center.

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

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

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

Cancer Prevention Education to Follow

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

In addition, the farmers' wives and adult daughters will be givena separate educational program to increase their knowledge ofpesticide risk and raise their awareness of cancer preventionand 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 preventionprogram," Dr. Perry says. "We're not only describinga problem--pesticide risk--but we're also attempting to reduceexposure through education."

Dr. Perry presented her study at the 14th annual Media Seminaron Cancer at the Medical College of Wisconsin. The seminar iscosponsored by the American Cancer Society-Wisconsin Divisionand the MACC (Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer) FundResearch Center.