Clues to cancer etiology from studies of farmers.
This article summarizes cancer risks among farmers to clarify the magnitude of the problem and to suggest directions for future research. Significant excesses occurred for Hodgkin's disease, multiple myeloma, leukemia, skin melanomas, and cancers of the lip, stomach, and prostate. Nonsignificant increases in risk were also noted for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and cancers of connective tissue and brain. These excesses occurred against a background of substantial deficits among farmers for total mortality and mortality from many specific diseases. The tumors vary in frequency, histology, and prognosis and do not fall into any obvious grouping. Two commonalities may be important. Several of the tumors excessive among farmers appear to be rising in the general population and are excessive among patients with naturally occurring or medically induced immunodeficiencies. Therefore epidemiologic studies on specific exposures among farmers may help explain the rising trend of certain cancers in developed countries and provide clues to mechanisms of action for environmental carcinogens.