OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the relation between mortality from lymphohaematopoietic cancer and long term, low level exposures to benzene among male petroleum distribution workers. METHODS: This nested case control study identified all fatal cases of lymphohaematopoietic cancer among a previously studied cohort. Of the 29 cases, 14 had leukaemia, seven multiple myeloma, and eight non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. A four to one matching ratio was used to select a stratified sample of controls from the same cohort, controlling for year of birth and time at risk. Industrial hygienists estimated workplace exposures for benzene and total hydrocarbons, without knowledge of case or control status, for combinations of job, location, and era represented in all work histories. Average daily benzene concentrations ranged from 0.01 to 6.2 parts per million (ppm) for all jobs. Company medical records were used to abstract information on other potential confounders such as cigarette smoking, although the data were incomplete. Odds ratios (ORs) were calculated with conditional logistic regression techniques for several exposure variables. RESULTS: Risks of leukaemia, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and multiple myeloma were not associated with increasing cumulative exposure to benzene or total hydrocarbons. For leukaemia, the logistic regression model predicted an OR of 1.002 (P < 0.77) for each ppm-y of exposure to benzene. Duration of exposure to benzene was more closely associated with risk of leukaemia than other exposure variables. It was not possible to completely control for other risk factors, although there was suggestive evidence that smoking and a family history of cancer may have played a part in the risk of leukaemia. CONCLUSION: This study did not show a relation between lymphohaematopoietic cancer and long term, low level exposures to benzene. The power of the study to detect low-such as twofold-risks was limited. Thus, further study on exposures to benzene in this concentration range are warranted.
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