A new study released today and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives shows that men with a family history of prostate cancer may have an even higher risk of developing the disease if they are exposed to the insecticide coumaphos.  

For their study, researchers collected data regarding pesticide exposure and health histories on 47,822 licensed pesticide applicators in Iowa and North Carolina. They found that male pesticide applicators with a family history of prostate cancer and who had worked with coumaphos had a 65 percent increased risk of prostate cancer compared to those who never used the pesticide.

The higher risk did not occur in men who had a family history of prostate cancer but were not exposed to coumapos, nor did it occur in men who were exposed to the insecticide but whose relatives did not have prostate cancer in the past. It was the combination of the two factors that increased the risk.

Coumaphos is an insecticide that is primarily used to control pests on beef and dairy cattle. Between 1990 and 1999, more than 70,000 pounds of the chemical were used on livestock farms annually in the United States. And though the risk is likely isolated to farmers and pesticide applicators, researchers speculated that exposure to the general population may occur when eating food products from coumaphos-treated animals, such as meat or milk.