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Environ Health Perspect. 2004 June; 112(8): 889–897.
PMCID: PMC1242018
Research Article

Breast cancer risk and historical exposure to pesticides from wide-area applications assessed with GIS.


Pesticides are of interest in etiologic studies of breast cancer because many mimic estrogen, a known breast cancer risk factor, or cause mammary tumors in animals, but most previous studies have been limited by using one-time tissue measurements of residues of only a few pesticides long banned in the United States. As an alternative method to assess historical exposures to banned and current-use pesticides, we used geographic information system (GIS) technology in a population-based case-control study of 1,165 women residing in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, who were diagnosed with breast cancer in 1988-1995 and 1,006 controls. We assessed exposures dating back to 1948 (when DDT was first used there) from pesticides applied for tree pests (e.g., gypsy moths), cranberry bogs, other agriculture, and mosquito control on wetlands. We found no overall pattern of association between pesticide use and breast cancer. We found modest increases in risk associated with aerial application of persistent pesticides on cranberry bogs and less persistent pesticides applied for tree pests or agriculture. Adjusted odds ratios for these exposures were 1.8 or lower, and, with a few exceptions, confidence intervals did not exclude the null. The study is limited by uncertainty about locations of home addresses (particularly before 1980) and unrecorded tree pest and mosquito control events as well as lack of information about exposures during years when women in the study lived off Cape Cod and about women with potentially important early life exposures on Cape Cod who were not included because they moved away.

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