Objectives Inconsistent epidemiological findings, debate over interpretation, and extrapolation of findings from animal studies to humans have produced uncertainty surrounding the carcinogenicity of trichloroethylene (TCE) exposure in occupational settings. We updated meta-analyses of published case–control and cohort studies exploring occupational TCE exposure and kidney cancer risk, incorporating new analytical results from three recently published cohort studies and a case–control study.
Methods PubMed MEDLINE was searched for studies published from 1950 to 2011 assessing occupational exposure to chlorinated solvents, degreasers or TCE. All cohort (N=15) and case–control (N=13) studies included in analyses were stratified by assessment of occupational exposure to TCE specifically and to any chlorinated solvent.
Results Significantly elevated summary estimates were observed for cohort studies (relative risk (RR) 1.26, 95% CI 1.02 to 1.56; p heterogeneity=0.65), case–control studies (OR 1.35, 95% CI 1.17 to 1.57; p heterogeneity=0.41), and cohort and case–control studies combined (RR 1.32, 95% CI 1.17 to 1.50, p heterogeneity=0.63) that specifically assessed TCE exposure after excluding outlier studies that contributed to heterogeneity. Non-significantly elevated summary estimates were generally observed for studies of workers exposed to chlorinated solvents but who were not assessed for TCE specifically.
Conclusions Regardless of study design, significant and stronger estimates were only observed in studies specifically assessing occupational exposure to TCE. Estimates were lower in studies assessing occupational exposure to chlorinated solvents. This updated meta-analysis supports an association between occupational TCE exposure and kidney cancer and provides evidence that exposure misclassification may weaken estimates assessing exposure to the broader class of chlorinated solvents.
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