A nested case-control study of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and serum organochlorine residues

Lancet. 1997 Jul 26;350(9073):240-4. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(97)02088-6.


Background: The steady worldwide increase in the incidence of non-Hodgkin lymphoma during the past few decades remains mostly unexplained. Several studies suggest that there may be an association between the agricultural use of the organochlorine 1,1,1-trichloro-2,2'bis(p-chlorophenyl)ethane (DDT) and increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. We have investigated the association between risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and body burden of selected organochlorines in the general population in a nested case-control study.

Methods: We measured prediagnostic serum concentrations of DDT, its metabolites, and other organochlorines, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), in 74 cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and 147 matched controls identified from a prospective cohort of 25,802 adults, established in 1974 in Washington County, Maryland, USA. We report results for total lipid-corrected serum concentrations of DDT and total PCBs.

Findings: There was a strong dose-response relation between quartiles of total lipid-corrected serum PCB concentrations and risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma overall (odds ratios by quartile: 1.0; 1.3 [95% CI 0.5-3.3]; 2.8 [1.1-7.6]); and 4.5 [1.7-12.0]; p for trend = 0.0008) and separately in men and in women. There was also evidence suggesting that seropositivity for the Epstein-Barr virus early antigen potentiated the effects of serum PCBs. By contrast, total lipid-corrected serum concentrations of DDT were not associated with risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Interpretation: These results should be regarded as hypothesis-generating. Before causal inferences can be made about exposure to PCBs and increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, our findings require replication and the biological plausibility of the association needs further investigation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Burden
  • Case-Control Studies
  • DDT / adverse effects
  • DDT / blood
  • Female
  • Herpesviridae Infections / complications
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / isolation & purification
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Insecticides / adverse effects
  • Insecticides / blood*
  • Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin / blood*
  • Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin / epidemiology
  • Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin / etiology
  • Male
  • Maryland / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Registries
  • Tumor Virus Infections / complications


  • Insecticides
  • DDT