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.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.