Pesticides and Cancer  
by Dr. Rob Rutledge
from UPdate June 2000

     My name is Rob Rutledge. I am a Radiation Oncologist at the Nova Scotia Cancer Centre, at the QE II Health Centre. I specialize in breast, prostate and pediatric cancers. I see 300 new cases a year. There is a tremendous cost to these cases, in both financial and human terms. 

      The Medical Community in Nova Scotia has many members who support a ban on cosmetic pesticides. They include the Medical Officer of Health; the Medical Society of Nova Scotia; the Canadian Cancer Society; Dr. John Ruedy, past Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie University; Neil Roberts, CEO of the QE II and many others. 

      I will address the relationship between pesticides and cancer. But cancer is not the only health effect of pesticides. There are immune-allergy effects, neurological-developmental effects, respiratory effects including asthma, dermatologic effects and reproductive effects.

      Pesticides likely increase the risk of cancer. For breast cancer, there is a 1 in 9 lifetime risk. The numbers for prostate cancer show a similar epidemic. Childhood brain cancer has been increasing by 10% per year for years! The incidence of childhood leukemia is up. And our genetics haven't changed.

      Do pesticides cause cancer? Multiple factors contribute to cancer, and it's difficult to isolate one factor. But we do know that pesticides likely increase the risk of cancer.

      Why? Most pesticides contain multiple toxins. There is no class of pesticide which is free of cancer causing potential. Pesticides cause cancers in cell culture and in animals. This does not even account for the promoter and hormonal effects of pesticides. There are still many gaps in our knowledge.

      There have been many studies and the findings have been consistent that pesticides increase the risk of cancer in humans. The National Cancer Institute in the US found that "farmers tend to have higher than expected rates of cancer of the lymph, blood, lip, stomach, skin, prostate, brain, testes and soft tissue...".   They found that "phenoxy herbicides, triazines, arsenicals and organochlorides play a role."

      Pesticides also likely increase the risk of childhood cancer. Kids are susceptible, their brains are still growing. A Medline search showed that there is a several fold increase in risk of childhood leukemia where parents have had prenatal exposure to pesticides.

      Why ban pesticides? I will not emphasize the economic costs of treating cancer, the ecological effects, the fact that there are safe, appropriate alternatives to pesticides, or the liability issues for the HRM. 

      I will say, HRM should ban pesticides to prevent even one case of a young mother dying of cancer, or a child inflicted with this terrible disease.