A critical review of cancer epidemiology in the petroleum industry, with a meta-analysis of a combined database of more than 350,000 workers

Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2000 Aug;32(1):78-98. doi: 10.1006/rtph.2000.1410.


In 1989 we published a critical review of cancer epidemiology in petroleum workers, which included as a component of the review a meta-analysis by cancer site. Subsequently we have completed three additional reviews and meta-analyses on cell-type-specific leukemias (1995), multiple myeloma (1997), and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (2000). The objective of the present investigation was to update our 1989 review and meta-analysis of nonlymphohematopoietic cancers in cohort studies of petroleum workers. Included in the present investigation were cohort studies of petroleum workers from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Finland, Sweden, and Italy. Individual studies were reviewed with regard to specific cancer sites. For each cancer of interest, risk ratios from the individual studies were presented. In some studies, subcohort analyses stratified by exposure parameters such as length of employment, job category, and hire year were also reported. These subcohort or stratified analyses were reviewed and the results of these analyses were taken into consideration in our interpretation. In addition to the qualitative review of individual studies, a meta-analysis was performed to combine data from individual cohort studies of petroleum workers. The primary purpose of the meta-analysis was to provide a summary measure of risk for each cancer site. Based on a review and meta-analyses of cohort studies of more than 350,000 petroleum workers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Finland, Sweden, and Italy, we concluded that there was no increased mortality from digestive cancers (stomach, large intestine, liver, or pancreas), lung cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, or brain cancer. The summary standardized mortality ratios for these cancer sites were all below unity. Significant increases of melanoma mortality were reported in some small groups of refinery workers in the United Kingdom and upstream operation workers in Canada, but no responsible agent(s) had been identified. The observed mortality from skin cancer in all other studies was similar to the expected. In particular, no significant increase of skin cancer mortality was reported in any of the U.S. studies. Elevated mortality from prostate cancer was noted in short-term workers at a U.S. refinery and in short-term workers employed in certain crafts at U.S. crude oil operations. However, the absence of an upward trend by length of employment in these workers argued against an association between exposure to petroleum products and prostate cancer. For all petroleum workers as a whole, mortality from prostate cancer was as expected.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Industry*
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • North America / epidemiology
  • Occupational Diseases / chemically induced
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Petroleum*
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • Workplace


  • Petroleum