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Am J Ind Med. 2000 Dec;38(6):651-65.

Cancer risk in laboratory workers: an emphasis on biological research.

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Unit of Epidemiology for Cancer Prevention, International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon, France.



At the end of the 1980s, several cancer clusters were observed in biological research laboratories. Over time, biological research and the technologies used have been diverse and have involved a wide range of mutagenic or carcinogenic chemical, physical and biological agents.


We reviewed 45 published studies on cancer risk among biological research personnel and workers in closely related fields, and numerous reports based on routinely collected data.


Biological research could be associated with an elevated risk for pancreatic cancer, brain tumors, and certain hemopathies. A common limitation of available studies was low statistical power and the absence or inaccuracy of data on individual past exposure.


Overall, this study suggests a low overall risk of cancer, albeit a higher risk may be suggested for cancers of the pancreas (risk ratios ranging from 0.5 to 6.3) and brain (0.7-9.4), and for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (0.6-51.5). We suggest ways in which multiple past exposures could be assessed more precisely and emphasize a pressing need to take into account known confounders.

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