Background: Men who were part of an Australian petroleum industry cohort had previously been found to have an excess of lympho-hematopoietic cancer. Occupational benzene exposure is a possible cause of this excess.
Methods: We conducted a case-control study of lympho-hematopoietic cancer nested within the existing cohort study to examine the role of benzene exposure. Cases identified between 1981 and 1999 (N = 79) were age-matched to 5 control subjects from the cohort. We estimated each subject's benzene exposure using occupational histories, local site-specific information, and an algorithm using Australian petroleum industry monitoring data.
Results: Matched analyses showed that the risk of leukemia was increased at cumulative exposures above 2 ppm-years and with intensity of exposure of highest exposed job over 0.8 ppm. Risk increased with higher exposures; for the 13 case-sets with greater than 8 ppm-years cumulative exposure, the odds ratio was 11.3 (95% confidence interval = 2.85-45.1). The risk of leukemia was not associated with start date or duration of employment. The association with type of workplace was explained by cumulative exposure. There is limited evidence that short-term high exposures carry more risk than the same amount of exposure spread over a longer period. The risks for acute nonlymphocytic leukemia and chronic lymphocytic leukemia were raised for the highest exposed workers. No association was found between non-Hodgkin lymphoma or multiple myeloma and benzene exposure, nor between tobacco or alcohol consumption and any of the cancers.
Conclusions: We found an excess risk of leukemia associated with cumulative benzene exposures and benzene exposure intensities that were considerably lower than reported in previous studies. No evidence was found of a threshold cumulative exposure below which there was no risk.