Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2017

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 01/31/2022

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Field, R William

First Committee Member

Lynch, Charles F

Second Committee Member

Romitti, Paul A

Third Committee Member

Casteel, Carri

Fourth Committee Member

Ramirez, Marizen R


This study examines the risk of cancer in children of pesticide applicators from the Agricultural Health Study. The study includes 36,537 children of Iowa participants who were evaluated for cancer incidence during 1975 through 2013 from birth through the age of seventeen. Standard incidence rates for any cancer and specific groups of cancers classified using the International Classification of Childhood Cancer was calculated using rates from the general population of Iowa controlling for year of follow, age, sex, and race. Hazard ratios for Group I-III cancers and paternal exposure to specific pesticides were calculated using exposure information collected on 50 pesticides during phase 1 and 2 of the Agricultural Health Study. The exposure information allowed for calculation of intensity-weighted days of exposure to pesticides using the Agricultural Health Study exposure algorithm. Additionally, maternal ever exposure to specific pesticides was used to evaluate risk of childhood cancer.

There were 118 cancers identified in children of Agricultural Health Study participants. The all-cancer standardized incidence ratio was significantly elevated (SIR = 1.27 95% CI: 1.04-1.50). The most common groups of cancers were Group I leukemia, myeloproliferative disease, and myelodysplastic disease (n=34) followed by Group III central nervous system (CNS) and miscellaneous intracranial and intraspinal neoplasms (n=25).

For paternal intensity-weighted days of exposure, there were 31 of 50 specific pesticides that had sufficient cases of cancer to investigate using Cox proportional hazard models. The herbicide trifluralin significantly increased the risk for Group I childhood cancers for any parental pesticide exposure 2 years before birth through birth when compared to children with no paternal exposure (HR = 2.72 95% CI: 1.15, 6.44). This was consistent with results found from analyzing exposure split into two quantiles based on median exposure of exposed children with a Group I cancer. Parental use of the herbicide S-Ethyl-dipropylthiocarbamate (EPTC) did not result in a sufficient number of Group III cancer cases to look at levels of exposure to EPTC, but ever exposure showed an increased hazard ratio when compared to children with unexposed fathers (HR = 2.56 95% CI: 1.06, 6.20). Other pesticides (dicamba, cyanazine, and terbufos) showed mixed evidence of an association with specific childhood cancers, but were either under powered to evaluate with sensitivity analysis or showed inconsistent risk across exposure levels. Less extensive exposure information was available for mothers of children of the Agricultural Health Study, so analysis was restricted to ever or never exposure to pesticides during a mother’s lifetime. Additionally, there were a limited number of cases of cancer for which maternal exposure to specific pesticides was reported resulting in only 4 pesticides being evaluated for childhood cancer risk (glyphosate, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), carbaryl, and malathion). For these four pesticides, this study did not detect any increased risk of childhood cancer from maternal exposure.

In summary, this study provides the first epidemiological evidence of an increased risk of childhood cancer for trifluralin and EPTC. Since this study provides the first evidence of this increased risk, additional analysis is needed to validate the results. This study demonstrates how pesticide exposure information from participants of the AHS can be used in the evaluation of their children’s cancer risk. Additional follow-up and analysis of this cohort beyond the age of 17 would provide further insight into cancer risk during early adulthood from early life pesticide exposure.


Brain tumor, Childhood Cancer, Leukemia, Lymphoma, Pesticide


xi, 170 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 134-142).


Copyright © 2017 Jonathan Davis

Available for download on Monday, January 31, 2022