Mortality of U.S. embalmers and funeral directors

Am J Ind Med. 1990;18(6):641-52. doi: 10.1002/ajim.4700180603.


The causes of mortality of 3,649 white and 397 non-white male U.S. embalmers and funeral directors, who had died between 1975 and 1985, were examined in a proportional mortality study. Non-significant excesses were found for malignancies of the buccal cavity and pharynx (PMR = 120) and for nasopharyngeal cancer (PMR = 216). No sinonasal cancers were observed, while 1.7 were expected. A statistically significant excess of colon cancer (PMR = 127) was found and a non-significant excess of brain and other CNS cancer was noted among whites only (PMR = 123). Statistically significant excesses of malignancies of the lymphatic and hematopoietic systems were found in whites (PMR = 131) and non-whites (PMR = 241). Myeloid leukemia (PMR = 157) and leukemia of other and unspecified cell types (PMR = 228) were in excess, while no excess of lymphatic leukemia was noted. Elevations in risk were also found for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, polycythemia vera, and myelofibrosis. Non-whites showed a marked excess of multiple myeloma (PMR = 369). Chronic nephritis was in excess among whites (PMR = 215) and non-whites (PMR = 257). No excess of cirrhosis of the liver was found. Excesses of malignancies of the lymphatic and hematopoietic systems could not be directly related to job held in the funeral industry. Further case-control studies are planned to rule out the possibility that the observed associations are artifactual, by assessing the association between specific work practices and disease risk.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cause of Death
  • Embalming*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortuary Practice*
  • Neoplasms / mortality
  • Occupational Diseases / mortality*
  • Risk Factors
  • United States / epidemiology