Cancer risk in laboratory workers: an emphasis on biological research

Am J Ind Med. 2000 Dec;38(6):651-65. doi: 10.1002/1097-0274(200012)38:6<651::aid-ajim6>;2-j.


Background: At the end of the 1980s, several cancer clusters were observed in biological research laboratories. Over time, biological research and the technologies used have been diverse and have involved a wide range of mutagenic or carcinogenic chemical, physical and biological agents.

Methods: We reviewed 45 published studies on cancer risk among biological research personnel and workers in closely related fields, and numerous reports based on routinely collected data.

Results: Biological research could be associated with an elevated risk for pancreatic cancer, brain tumors, and certain hemopathies. A common limitation of available studies was low statistical power and the absence or inaccuracy of data on individual past exposure.

Conclusions: Overall, this study suggests a low overall risk of cancer, albeit a higher risk may be suggested for cancers of the pancreas (risk ratios ranging from 0.5 to 6.3) and brain (0.7-9.4), and for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (0.6-51.5). We suggest ways in which multiple past exposures could be assessed more precisely and emphasize a pressing need to take into account known confounders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Science Disciplines*
  • Bone Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Brain Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Hematologic Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Lymphatic Metastasis
  • Lymphoma
  • Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin / epidemiology
  • Medical Laboratory Personnel*
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Tract Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Skin Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Urogenital Neoplasms / epidemiology