Organic solvents and cancer

Cancer Causes Control. 1997 May;8(3):406-19. doi: 10.1023/a:1018461406120.


Epidemiologic evidence on the relationship between organic solvents and cancer is reviewed. In the 1980s, more than a million persons were potentially exposed to some specific solvents in the United States; in Canada, 40 percent of male cancer patients in Montreal had experienced exposure to solvents; in the Finnish population, one percent was regularly exposed. There is evidence for increased risks of cancer following exposure to: trichloroethylene (for the liver and biliary tract and for non-Hodgkin's lymphomas); tetrachloroethylene (for the esophagus and cervix--although confounding by smoking, alcohol, and sexual habits cannot be excluded--and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma); and carbon tetrachloride (lymphohematopoietic malignancies). An excess risk of liver and biliary tract cancers was suggested in the cohort with the high exposure to methylene chloride, but not found in the other cohorts where an excess risk of pancreatic cancer was suggested. 1,1,1-trichloroethane has been used widely, but only a few studies have been done suggesting a risk of multiple myeloma. A causal association between exposure to benzene and an increased risk of leukemia is well-established, as well as a suggested risk of lung and nasopharynx cancer in a Chinese cohort. Increased risks of various gastrointestinal cancers have been suggested following exposure to toluene. Two informative studies indicated an increased risk of lung cancer, not supported by other studies. Increased risks of lymphohematopoietic malignancies have been reported in some studies of persons exposed to toluene or xylene, but not in the two most informative studies on toluene. Occupation as a painter has consistently been associated with a 40 percent increased risk of lung cancer. (With the mixed exposures, however, it is not possible to identify the specific causative agent[s].) A large number of studies of workers exposed to styrene have evidenced no consistent excess risk of all lymphohematopoietic malignancies, although the most sensitive study suggested an excess risk of leukemia among workers with a high exposure.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Benzene / adverse effects
  • Biliary Tract Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Biliary Tract Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Carbon Tetrachloride / adverse effects
  • Carcinogens / adverse effects*
  • China / epidemiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Hematologic Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Hematologic Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Leukemia / chemically induced
  • Leukemia / epidemiology
  • Liver Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Liver Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Lymphoma / chemically induced
  • Lymphoma / epidemiology
  • Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin / chemically induced
  • Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Methylene Chloride / adverse effects
  • Multiple Myeloma / chemically induced
  • Multiple Myeloma / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • North America / epidemiology
  • Occupational Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology
  • Occupational Exposure
  • Organic Chemicals / adverse effects*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Solvents / adverse effects*
  • Tetrachloroethylene / adverse effects
  • Toluene / adverse effects
  • Trichloroethanes / adverse effects
  • Trichloroethylene / adverse effects
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / epidemiology


  • Carcinogens
  • Organic Chemicals
  • Solvents
  • Trichloroethanes
  • 1,1,1-trichloroethane
  • Trichloroethylene
  • Toluene
  • Methylene Chloride
  • Carbon Tetrachloride
  • Benzene
  • Tetrachloroethylene