OBJECTIVES--To assess the risk of cancer, especially leukaemia, in a cohort of sterilant workers exposed to ethylene oxide (EtO). METHODS--A cohort of 2170 workers employed for at least one year in two plants that produce disposable medical equipment sterilised with EtO has previously been established. The results of an update with four more years of observation are presented. The cancer incidence was assessed for the periods 1976 to 1990 and 1972 to 1990 and cause specific standardised incidence ratios (SIRs) were calculated. Individual cumulative exposure to EtO, expressed as ppm-years, was estimated and used in exposure-response analyses. RESULTS--Six lymphohaematopoietic tumours were observed (SIR 1.78, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 0.65-3.88), of which two were leukaemias (SIR 2.44; 95% CI 0.30-8.81). When those with cumulative exposures to EtO below the median value (0.13 ppm-years) were excluded, and a minimum of 10 years induction latency period was applied, the incidence ratio for leukaemia increased further (SIR 7.14, 95% CI 0.87-25.8), but was still not significantly enhanced. CONCLUSIONS--The risk estimate for leukaemia increased, but non-significantly, with time since start of exposure, and with cumulative exposures to EtO above the median value. The subjects with leukaemia had, however, only slightly higher cumulative exposure estimates for EtO than the average cohort member. Nevertheless, the present results may add some minor evidence for an association between EtO and an increased risk of leukaemia.
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