Mortality From Lymphohematopoietic Malignancies Among Workers in Formaldehyde Industries: The National Cancer Institute Cohort

Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, NIH, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.
Journal of the National Cancer Institute (Impact Factor: 12.58). 05/2009; 101(10):751-61. DOI: 10.1093/jnci/djp096
Source: PubMed


Formaldehyde exposure is associated with leukemia in some epidemiological studies. In the National Cancer Institute's formaldehyde cohort, previously followed through December 31, 1979, and updated through December 31, 1994, formaldehyde exposure was associated with an increased risk for leukemia, particularly myeloid leukemia, that increased with peak and average intensity of exposure.
We extended follow-up through December 31, 2004 (median follow-up = 42 years), for 25 619 workers employed at one of 10 formaldehyde-using or formaldehyde-producing plants before 1966. We used Poisson regression to calculate relative risk (RR) estimates and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) to examine associations between quantitative formaldehyde exposure estimates (peak exposure, average intensity and cumulative exposure) and death from lymphohematopoietic malignancies. All statistical tests were two-sided and considered to be significant at P = .05.
When follow-up ended in 2004, there were statistically significant increased risks for the highest vs lowest peak formaldehyde exposure category (> or =4 parts per million [ppm] vs >0 to <2.0 ppm) and all lymphohematopoietic malignancies (RR = 1.37; 95% CI = 1.03 to 1.81, P trend = .02) and Hodgkin lymphoma (RR = 3.96; 95% CI = 1.31 to 12.02, P trend = .01). Statistically nonsignificant associations were observed for multiple myeloma (RR = 2.04; 95% CI = 1.01 to 4.12, P trend > .50), all leukemia (RR = 1.42; 95% CI = 0.92 to 2.18, P trend = .12), and myeloid leukemia (RR = 1.78; 95% CI = 0.87 to 3.64, P trend = .13). There was little evidence of association for any lymphohematopoietic malignancy with average intensity or cumulative exposure at the end of follow-up in 2004. However, disease associations varied over time. For peak exposure, the highest formaldehyde-related risks for myeloid leukemia occurred before 1980, but trend tests attained statistical significance in 1990 only. After the mid-1990s, the formaldehyde-related risk of myeloid leukemia declined.
Evaluation of risks over time suggests a possible link between formaldehyde exposure and lymphohematopoietic malignancies, particularly myeloid leukemia but also perhaps Hodgkin lymphoma and multiple myeloma. Observed patterns could be due to chance but are also consistent with a causal association within the relatively short induction-incubation periods characteristic of leukemogenesis. Further epidemiological study and exploration of potential molecular mechanisms are warranted.

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