Multiple myeloma and benzene exposure in a multinational cohort of more than 250,000 petroleum workers

Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 1997 Oct;26(2):188-99. doi: 10.1006/rtph.1997.1162.


Case reports have suggested an association between benzene exposure and multiple myeloma. Because petroleum workers are exposed to benzene or benzene-containing liquids, studies of these workers provide an opportunity for investigating the relationship between benzene and multiple myeloma. A large number of cohort studies of petroleum workers have been conducted. However, few of them have reported results of multiple myeloma separately. One reason is that multiple myeloma is usually grouped with other lymphopoietic cancers in the analysis. Another reason is that multiple myeloma is relatively rare, and few individual studies are large enough to provide reliable risk estimates. To determine the risk of multiple myeloma in petroleum (refinery, distribution, production, and pipeline) workers, we have identified 22 cohort mortality studies of petroleum workers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. Authors of these studies were contacted, and data on the number of observed deaths and age-specific person-years of observation were requested. Data from individual studies were combined in a pooled analysis (meta-analysis). In addition to the pooled analyses, results for individual cohorts, most of which have never been reported before, are also presented. The combined multinational cohort consisted of more than 250,000 petroleum workers, and the observation period covered an interval of 55 years from 1937 to 1991. A total of 205 deaths from multiple myeloma were observed, compared to 220.93 expected, a total derived from respective national mortality rates. The corresponding standardized mortality ratio (SMR) was 0.93 and the 95% confidence interval (95% CI) was 0.81-1.07. Additional analyses were performed by type of facility and industrial process. Stratum-specific SMRs (95% CIs) were 0.92 (0.77-1.09) for refinery workers and 0.93 (0.69-1.23) for distribution workers. When individual cohorts were stratified by length of observation, no pattern was detected. The pooled analysis indicates that petroleum workers are not at an increased risk of multiple myeloma as a result of their exposure to benzene, benzene-containing liquids, or other petroleum products in their work environment. This conclusion is supported by cohort studies of workers in other industries who were exposed to benzene as well as by population-based case-control studies of multiple myeloma and occupational exposures.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Benzene / adverse effects*
  • Benzene Derivatives / adverse effects*
  • Canada
  • Carcinogens / adverse effects*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Chemical Industry
  • Cohort Studies
  • Humans
  • Multiple Myeloma / chemically induced*
  • Multiple Myeloma / epidemiology
  • Multiple Myeloma / mortality
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Petroleum / adverse effects*
  • Regression Analysis
  • United Kingdom
  • United States


  • Benzene Derivatives
  • Carcinogens
  • Petroleum
  • Benzene