An updated meta-analysis of formaldehyde exposure and upper respiratory tract cancers

J Occup Environ Med. 1997 Jul;39(7):639-51. doi: 10.1097/00043764-199707000-00009.


In this study, we summarize 47 epidemiologic studies related to formaldehyde exposure and use meta-analytic techniques to assess findings for cancers of the lung, nose/nasal sinuses, and nasopharynx. Our analyses indicate that workers with formaldehyde exposure have essentially null findings for lung cancer and a slight deficit of sinonasal cancer. Nasopharyngeal cancer rates were elevated moderately in a minority of studies. Most studies, however, did not find any nasopharyngeal cancers, and many failed to report their findings. After correcting for underreporting, we found a meta relative risk of 1.0 for cohort studies. Case-control studies had a meta relative risk of 1.3. Our review of the exposure literature indicated that the nasopharyngeal cancer case-control studies represented much lower and less certain exposures than the cohort studies. We conclude that the available studies do not support a causal relation between formaldehyde exposure and nasopharyngeal cancer. This conclusion conflicts with conclusions from two previous meta-analyses, primarily because of our consideration of unreported data.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carcinogens, Environmental / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Formaldehyde / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Occupational Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Tract Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Respiratory Tract Neoplasms / epidemiology


  • Carcinogens, Environmental
  • Formaldehyde