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Int J Occup Environ Health. 2007 Apr-Jun;13(2):213-21.

Benzene-induced cancers: abridged history and occupational health impact.

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National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, NC 27514, USA.


Benzene-induced cancer in humans was first reported in the late 1920s. Carcinogenesis findings in animals were not reported conclusively until 1979. Industry exploited this "discrepancy" to discredit the use of animal bioassays as surrogates for human exposure experience. The cardinal reason for the delay between first recognizing leukemia in humans and sought-after neoplasia in animals centers on poor design and conduct of experimental studies. The first evidence of carcinogenicity in animals manifested as malignant tumors of the zymbal glands (sebaceous glands in the ear canal) of rats, and industry attempted to discount this as being irrelevant to humans, as this organ is vestigial and not present per se in humans. Nonetheless, shortly thereafter benzene was shown to be carcinogenic to multiple organ sites in both sexes of multiple strains and multiple species of laboratory animals exposed via various routes. This paper presents a condensed history of the benzene bioassay story with mention of benzene-associated human cancers.

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