Pesticides and cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide.ZoomZoom
© Joanna Prime

Article published in the Courrier Laval on June 27, 2007.

The number of cancers is increasing throughout the world. In Canada, nearly 150,000 new cases are discovered each year. Some products in our environment have now been identified as responsible for this increase. For others, pesticides, for example, the effects are more difficult to interpret. But what do we know about pesticides?

"By acting on plants and insects, pesticides can affect other organisms" says Michel Charbonneau, professor at the INRS-Institut Armand Frappier. With his team he is studying the effects of environmental contaminants, particularly pesticides, on human health. "Currently, toxicological studies on animals or human cell cultures show that these substances are capable of inducing cancers but their effect on humans is still a challenge" he continues. It took 30 years to demonstrate that smoking cigarettes induced lung cancer. And yet, this exposure is easy to quantify. It is more difficult to measure exposure to pesticides. Furthermore, one must wait 10 to 15 years before observing the appearance of a possible cancer.

"Cancers are currently classified according to the organs they target. We should also take into account their specific modes of action" explains Dr. Charbonneau. Each product uses a different route that should be treated in a different manner. One must look at the bigger picture to shed light on the question.

In the absence of certainty, some will choose caution: 0 exposure = 0 effect. But not using pesticides does not make them disappear from the environment. Furthermore, their use can be beneficial in the control of pollen-emitting flora or biting insects that transmit viral infections. In this case, eliminating pesticides could have negative effects on people at risk. "We should take the time to think things through before acting" advises Dr. Charbonneau.