Article Author: Amanda Thompson, Biology Major, Class of 2023, POB Science Translator

We can all agree that bugs can be nuisances, with their buzzing, stinging, and swarming. For farmers however, annoyance is not the main concern. Fields can be decimated and entire crops can be ruined by these pests. To resolve this issue, insecticides may be used to reduce the amount of these pests. Insecticides are a type of pesticide that are used to kill insects. In theory, it makes perfect sense to use them. But, at what cost to human health?

Despite their pervasiveness in the environment, many people are unaware that pesticides are often made up of harmful chemicals that pose risks to our health. Exposure to many of these chemicals is associated with cancer and blood diseases, such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and leukemia.

The most common class of commercial pesticides are organophosphate pesticides (OPs). Based on a recent study from February 2021, evidence demonstrated the ability of organophosphate insecticides parathion and malathion to increase cell division, interfere with hormone receptor expression, increase metabolic alterations, and cause DNA mutations.

Within the study, researchers observed how parathion and malathion encouraged carcinogenicity through cell samples. Carcinogenicity refers to a substance or chemical that causes cancer. These substances can impact a cell’s cycle, growth, and development, potentially leading to the development of cancerous cells.

The study shared that parathion and malathion are able to increase the rate and size at which a cell grows and divides, ultimately forming more cells in the body. Furthermore, these chemicals demonstrated the ability to inactivate genes that suppress tumors (tumor-suppressor genes) and to activate genes that encourage tumor growth (oncogenes). These changes in cell division lead to genetic instability, which is a characteristic of most cancers.

Regulated cell division is necessary to replace damaged or dead cells. When a cell loses control over growth rate and size, this can lead to uncontrollable division of cancerous cells in the body. This state of genomic instability is an optimal environment for cancerous cells to grow and spread in our bodies.

The study also shared that parathion and malathion can increase the expression of estrogen (female sex hormone) receptors, which are closely linked to the development of breast cancer.

We are not only exposed to these chemicals when we deal with our own home infestations, but also when we eat crops that have been contaminated or breathe in the air of an area that has been sprayed with insecticides. It is critical that we are aware of these potential exposure routes, as well as the associated health effects so that we can make informed decisions. Simply buying an organic product in place of conventional could save our health in the long run.

Though bugs are annoying, the real issues are the harmful insecticides sprayed on conventional produce. As consumers can opt to reduce our exposure to these chemicals of concern by choosing organic, a simple swap that may prevent a future breast cancer diagnosis.


Calaf, Gloria M et al. “Signs of carcinogenicity induced by parathion, malathion, and estrogen in human breast epithelial cells (Review).” Oncology reports vol. 45,4 (2021): 1. doi:10.3892/or.2021.7975

Disclaimer: The information provided herein is the author’s opinion. Our authors are not scientists. We are not providing medical advice, but simply sharing publicly available information. When we reference data and databases, we do so with the caveat that most are only as good as the data they are based on. While POB strives to make the information as timely and accurate as possible, we make no claims, promises, or guarantees about the completeness, or adequacy of the contents of any site that is shared, and expressly disclaims liability for errors and omissions in the contents of these sites. POB goes to great lengths to avoid declaring shared products as “safe” as there is no legal definition of the word “safe” at this time.

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