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Environ Health Perspect. 2012 Aug;120(8):1067-75. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1104652. Epub 2012 May 2.

Current status of the epidemiologic evidence linking polychlorinated biphenyls and non-hodgkin lymphoma, and the role of immune dysregulation.

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  • 1Epidemiology International, Hunt Valley, Maryland, USA.



Although case-control studies conducted to date have largely affirmed the relationship between polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), occupational cohort studies of PCB-exposed workers have been generally interpreted as negative, thereby raising doubts about a potential causal association. A common theme of immune dysregulation unifies many of NHL's strongest risk factors, and several authors have posited that subclinical immune dysregulation may increase NHL risk by decreasing host resistance, reducing control of cellular proliferation and differentiation, and diminishing tumor surveillance mechanisms.


The goals of this review were a) to evaluate the epidemiological research examining the association between PCB exposure and NHL and discuss the contribution to the weight of evidence of case-control studies and occupational cohort studies; and b) to summarize the evidence for immune dysregulation as a means by which PCBs may cause NHL.


We performed a literature search using PubMed and seven additional online biomedical and toxicological referencing libraries to identify literature published through August 2011.


Overall, we conclude that the weight of evidence supports a causal role of PCBs in lymphomagenesis. The strongest epidemiological evidence for the relationship between PCBs and NHL comes from case-control studies conducted among the general population. Epidemiological and toxicological data demonstrating immunosuppressive and inflammatory effects of PCBs further contribute to the weight of evidence by providing a plausible explanation for how PCBs can cause NHL through immune dysregulation.

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