Cancer risk due to occupational exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

Am J Ind Med. 1995 Sep;28(3):303-24. doi: 10.1002/ajim.4700280302.


Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) demonstrate carcinogenic activity in animal models. Although some epidemiologic studies have implicated PAHs as risk factors for human cancer, the evidence reported to date has not been consistent. The purpose of this report is to describe the associations between occupational exposure to PAHs in the workplace and each of 14 types of cancer. A population-based, case-control study was carried out in Montreal to investigate associations between a large variety of environmental and occupational exposures on the one hand, and several types of cancer on the other. A detailed job history was obtained from each subject along with information on a number of potential confounders. Each job history was reviewed by a team of experts, who used this information to construct a corresponding history of occupational exposures. Among the PAH exposures considered were benzo(a)pyrene (B(a)P) and five categories of PAHs defined on the basis of the source material, namely, wood, petroleum, coal, other sources, and any source. Altogether, 3,730 cancer patients and 533 population controls were interviewed and their job exposure histories coded. For each of 14 types of cancer analyzed, three control groups were available: other cancer patients, population controls, and the pooled set of cancer and population controls. The associations between 14 cancer types and 6 PAH exposures were analyzed using logistic regression methods. For most types of cancer evaluated, there was no evidence of excess risk due to PAHs at the levels encountered in the occupations in which PAH exposure has been prevalent in the Montreal area. For a few cancer sites--the esophagus, the pancreas, and the prostate gland--there were suggestions of excess risk; these observations are noteworthy hypotheses for further investigation. For lung cancer, there appeared to be an increased risk due to PAHs among nonsmokers and light smokers, but not among heavy smokers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Lung Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Lung Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Occupational Diseases / chemically induced
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis
  • Occupations
  • Odds Ratio
  • Polycyclic Compounds / adverse effects*
  • Polycyclic Compounds / analysis
  • Quebec / epidemiology
  • Risk Factors


  • Polycyclic Compounds