Background: Benzene is a human leukemogen. Risk assessment, and the setting of occupational and environmental standards, has assumed that risk is constant in time after a unit of exposure. Leukemia risk is known to vary with time after exposure to ionizing radiation.
Methods: A matched case-control study of leukemia risk in relation to the temporal pattern of benzene exposures was performed using data from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.
Results: Leukemia risk following exposure to benzene varied with time in a manner similar to that following exposure to ionizing radiation. More recent exposures were more strongly associated with risk than were more distant ones. There was no significant relation between leukemia death and benzene exposures incurred more than 20 years previously.
Conclusions: Recent analyses of specific occupational and environmental carcinogens, including benzene and radon, have indicated that cancer risk tends to decline as the time from exposure increases. This suggests that standards for the control of occupational or public risk must be selected to control exposures over a narrower time frame than the usual lifetime one. In the case of benzene, it would appear that risk is attributable primarily to exposures incurred during the previous 10 to 20 years, with exposures in the most recent 10 years being the most potent. To limit risk, exposures must be controlled during that interval. It is important that epidemiologists explore the temporal pattern of risk in their studies to facilitate the risk assessment of other carcinogens.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.