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Environ Int. 2015 Apr;77:70-5. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2015.01.009. Epub 2015 Feb 3.

Cancer mortality in the meat and delicatessen departments of supermarkets (1950-2006).

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University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Department of Epidemiology, Little Rock, AR, USA. Electronic address:
University of North Texas Health Science Center, Department of Epidemiology, Fort Worth, TX, USA.
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Department of Epidemiology, Little Rock, AR, USA.
Parker Research Institute, Parker University, Dallas, TX, USA.


Meat cutters and meat wrappers in the meat department of supermarkets are exposed to oncogenic viruses present in raw meat from cattle, pigs, sheep, and poultry, and their products (unpasteurized milk and raw eggs). Up to the mid 1970s, meat wrappers were also exposed to carcinogens present in fumes emitted from the machine used to wrap meat. Because of this we studied cancer mortality in a cohort of 10,701 workers in the meat and delicatessen departments of supermarkets, and we report here the findings after the third follow-up. Standardized mortality ratios (SMR) were estimated in the cohort as a whole and in race/sex subgroups, using the US population for comparison. Study subjects were followed up from January 1950 to December 2006. Significantly increased SMRs of 1.3 (95% CI, 1.2-1.5), and 2.7 (95% CI, 1.2-5.3) were recorded for cancers of the lung, and tonsils/oropharynx, respectively, in the entire cohort, affecting nearly all race/sex subgroups. SMRs of 4.6 (95% CI, 1.0-13.6) for cancer of the floor of the mouth, and 2.8 (95% CI, 1.3-5.3) for cancer of the gall bladder and biliary tract were recorded only in White male meatcutters. Significantly decreased SMRs were observed for a few cancers. It is not known if the observed excess of cancers is a result of occupational exposures. However, substantial evidence points to fumes from the wrapping machine as a possible candidate for explaining the excess in female meat wrappers. Nested case-control studies that can examine risks from occupational exposures in greater detail, and adequately control for confounding factors are now needed, to permit specifically investigate the role of the oncogenic viruses, fumes and non-occupational risk factors in the occurrence of these cancers. The findings are important, not only occupationally but also because the general population may also experience these exposures, albeit to a lesser degree.


Food animals; Meat processing; Meatcutters; Meatwrappers; Oncogenic viruses

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