OBJECTIVES--The aim was to study the risk of dying from cancer among workers in the meat department of supermarkets potentially exposed to oncogenic retroviruses and fumes during the wrapping and labelling of meat. METHODS--Cancer mortality for the period 1949 to 1989 was compared in a previously studied cohort of 10,841 members of a local meatcutters' union in Baltimore, Maryland who worked in the meat department of supermarkets, after an extended follow up of nine years (1981-9). Person-years and deaths were apportioned in five-year intervals by sex, age, and calendar year, and standardised mortality ratio (SMR) and proportional mortality ratio (PMR) analyses were conducted. The United States general population was used as the comparison group. Analyses of SMR and PMR were also conducted for a control group of workers from the same union who worked exclusively in non-meat companies. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION--Among women, an SMR of 1.6 (95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.1-2.2) and a PMR of 1.5 (95% CI 1.0-2.0) for lung cancer were found. For men, the SMR for cancer of the buccal cavity and pharynx was 1.8 (95% CI 1.0-3.0), and for colon cancer it was 1.5 (95% CI 1.1-2.1). The respective PMRs were 1.9 (95% CI 1.1-3.1) and 1.5 (95% CI 1.1-2.1). Whereas the role of non-occupational factors needs to be taken into account before occupational factors can be implicated in the occurrence of the excess of cancer of the buccal cavity and pharynx, and colon cancer in men, there is reason to suspect that occupational factors may be responsible for the lung cancer excess in women. Thus exposures that occur predominantly in women, such as exposure to fumes during wrapping and labelling, should be investigated as to their role in this excess.
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