Background: Many occupational and environmental exposures have been implicated in the etiology of leukemia, but only a few, such as benzene, are well-established leukemogens. The risk of leukemia in a large cohort of gas and electricity utility workers with exposures to several suspected or confirmed carcinogens was investigated.
Methods: A case-control study nested within the cohort was conducted, with 72 leukemia cases identified among male workers, and 285 controls matched to the cases by year of birth. Only cases, and their matched controls, active in the company at the date of diagnosis were included. Exposure assessment was based on a job-exposure matrix (JEM) developed from expert judgment using a standardized procedure.
Results: The risk of leukemia was increased in workers with an estimated cumulative exposure to benzene > or = 16.8 ppm-years (OR = 3.6; 95% CI 1.1-11.7), and there was an indication of a dose-response relation (OR = 1.2; 95% CI 1.0-1.5 per 10 ppm-years increase in exposure). The link with benzene was more pronounced for acute leukemia than for chronic leukemia, but no association with a particular leukemia cell type was apparent. The risk of leukemia remained elevated for latency periods of 2, 5, or 10 years.
Conclusions: From our evaluation, it could be estimated that the median TWA exposure to benzene among exposed workers was 0.16 ppm, i.e., within concentration ranges where an increased leukemia risk was usually not apparent in previous epidemiological studies. Although an increased leukemia risk may be real, it may also be related to other occupational factors not totally controlled for in the analysis, or to benzene exposures actually higher than expected.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.