OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the long term health consequences of past occupational exposure to 2,3,7,8 tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD). METHODS: Cancer incidence and cause specific mortality were examined up to and including 1992 in a group of 243 men with external comparisons and internal dose-response analyses. Model based estimates of TCDD dose (expressed in micrograms/kg body weight) were developed for all cohort members with an approach that incorporated detailed accounts of each employee's work activities, analyses of TCDD in blood lipid of 138 employees, and internally derived estimates of elimination rates of TCDD. RESULTS: The estimated dose of TCDD for 135 men was > or = 0.1 microgram/kg body weight and for 69 men > or = 1 microgram/kg body weight. Increased cancer risk ratios were found with higher doses of TCDD and longer interval since first exposure for all sites combined and digestive and respiratory cancers in particular. Within the high dose group (> or = 1 microgram/kg body weight), total cancer mortality was increased > or = 20 years after first exposure (13 cases, standardised mortality ratio (SMR) 1.97, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.05-3.36) as was respiratory cancer (six cases, SMR 3.06; 95% CI 1.12-6.66). Among current cigarette smokers, 12 cancer deaths occurred in the high dose group (SMR 3.42, 95% CI 1.77-5.97) compared with seven deaths at lower doses of TCDD (SMR 1.29, 95% CI 0.52-2.66). Regression analyses based on the Cox's proportional hazards model provided further evidence of a relation between cumulative dose of TCDD and occurrence of both overall and digestive cancer. No evidence of an effect of TCDD on overall mortality or deaths due to circulatory disease was found and no cases of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma or soft tissue sarcoma have been found to date. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings are consistent with a carcinogenic effect induced by TCDD at doses > or = 1 microgram/kg body weight. With such a small cohort, the risk estimates are not very stable and could be affected by selection and confounding.
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