Epidemiologic evidence on the relationship between formaldehyde exposure and cancer

Scand J Work Environ Health. 1990 Dec;16(6):381-93. doi: 10.5271/sjweh.1767.


Over 30 epidemiologic studies have evaluated cancer risks associated with formaldehyde exposure. Excesses were reported for several sites, leukemia and cancers of the nasal cavities, nasopharynx, lung, and brain generating the greatest interest. The excesses of leukemia and brain and colon cancer found among professionals may not be related to formaldehyde exposure, since similar excesses were not observed among industrial workers. Inconsistencies among and within studies impede assigning formaldehyde a convincing causal role for the excesses of lung cancer found among industrial workers. A causal role for formaldehyde is the most probable for cancers of the nasopharynx and, to a less extent, the nasal cavities. Evidence of exposure-response relationships, the fact that direct contact with formaldehyde may occur at these upper respiratory sites, and the consistency of these findings with experimental studies make this assumption highly probable.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Formaldehyde / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Leukemia / epidemiology
  • Lung Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Nasopharyngeal Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Nose Neoplasms / epidemiology


  • Formaldehyde