The mortality of 1111 men who worked on the polymerisation of acrylonitrile and the spinning of acrylic fibre from 1950 to 1968 was surveyed up to the end of 1978. Seventy-nine deaths were identified. The population was drawn from six factories, where polymerisation started before 1968, in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. In the group of men exposed to acrylonitrile for at least one year the total number of deaths was smaller than expected. An excess of deaths from all cancers was found, arising mainly from cancers of the lung, stomach, colon, and brain, but the excess was not statistically significant. Significant excesses of stomach cancer overall and in those aged 55-64, and of lung cancer in those aged 15-44 were found. Consideration of deaths according to factory indicated that the excesses of stomach cancer may have been due to regional factors. The excess of lung cancer was investigated further in view of the fact that, unusually, it occurred in relatively young men, but no consistent difference between the duration of exposure to acrylonitrile of the three young patients with lung cancer and matched controls was found. The study is limited and further analysis in the future is needed. The results are not conclusive and neither add to nor detract from existing suspicions that acrylonitrile is a human carcinogen but, taken together with evidence from other studies, indicate the necessity for the continuing surveillance of the exposed population in the United Kingdom.
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