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Industrial hog farming is associated with altered circulating immunological markers
  1. Jonathan N Hofmann1,
  2. Meredith S Shiels1,
  3. Melissa C Friesen1,
  4. Troy J Kemp2,
  5. Anil K Chaturvedi1,
  6. Charles F Lynch3,
  7. Christine G Parks4,
  8. Ligia A Pinto2,
  9. Allan Hildesheim1,
  10. Michael C R Alavanja1,
  11. Laura E Beane Freeman1
  1. 1 Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland, USA
  2. 2 HPV Immunology Laboratory, Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research, Leidos Biomedical Research, Frederick, Maryland, USA
  3. 3 Department of Epidemiology, University of Iowa, Iowa, USA
  4. 4 Department of Epidemiology Branch, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jonathan N Hofmann, Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, 9609 Medical Center Drive, Room 6E604, MSC 9771 Bethesda, MD 20892; hofmannjn{at}


Objectives The previously observed inverse association between hog farming and risk of lung cancer in the Agricultural Health Study (AHS) has been attributed to endotoxin exposure, the levels of which are particularly high in industrial hog confinement facilities. We conducted an investigation to explore the potential biological mechanisms underlying this association, as well as other immunological changes associated with hog farming.

Methods Serum immune marker levels were measured using a multiplexed bead-based assay in 61 active hog farmers and 61 controls matched on age, phlebotomy date and raising cattle. Both groups comprised non-smoking male AHS participants from Iowa. We compared natural log-transformed marker levels between hog farmers and controls using multivariate linear regression models.

Results Circulating levels of macrophage-derived chemokine (CCL22), a chemokine previously implicated in lung carcinogenesis, were reduced among hog farmers (17% decrease; 95% CI −28% to −4%), in particular for those with the largest operations (>6000 hogs: 26% decrease; 95% CI −39% to −10%; ptrend=0.002). We also found that hog farmers had elevated levels of other immune markers, including macrophage inflammatory protein-3 alpha (MIP-3A/CCL20; 111% increase, 95% CI 19% to 273%), basic fibroblast growth factor (FGF-2; 93% increase, 95% CI 10% to 240%) and soluble interleukin-4 receptor (12% increase, 95% CI 1% to 25%), with particularly strong associations for MIP-3A/CCL20 and FGF-2 in winter.

Conclusions These results provide insights into potential immunomodulatory mechanisms through which endotoxin or other exposures associated with hog farming may influence lung cancer risk, and warrant further investigation with more detailed bioaerosol exposure assessment.

  • hog farming
  • endotoxin
  • chemokines
  • immune markers

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  • Contributors All contributors meet the criteria for authorship.

  • Funding This work was supported by the Intramural Research Program of the National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute (Z01CP010119) and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (Z01ES049030).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Ethics approval NCI Special Studies Institutional Review Board and the Institutional Review Boards of other relevant organisations.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Correction notice This article has been corrected since it first published online. Table 1 has been included.