Objectives: Individual epidemiological investigations into the association between chlorination by-products in drinking water and cancer have been suggestive but inconclusive. Enough studies exist to provide the basis for a meaningful meta-analysis.
Methods: An extensive literature search was performed to identify pertinent case-control studies and cohort studies. Consumption of chlorinated water, surface water, or water with high levels of chloroform was used as a surrogate for exposure to chlorination by-products. Relative risk estimates were abstracted from the individual studies and pooled.
Results: A simple meta-analysis of all cancer sites yielded a relative risk estimate for exposure to chlorination by-products of 1.15 (95% CI: 1.09, 1.20). Pooled relative risk estimates for organ-specific neoplasms were 1.21 (95% CI: 1.09, 1.34) for bladder cancer and 1.38 (95% CI: 1.01, 1.87) for rectal cancer. When studies that adjusted for potential confounders were pooled separately, estimates of relative risks did not change substantially.
Conclusions: The results of this meta-analysis suggest a positive association between consumption of chlorination by-products in drinking water and bladder and rectal cancer in humans.