OBJECTIVES: To investigate the risk of lymphatic and haematopoietic malignancies in deck crew on tankers exposed to cargo vapours. METHODS: The study design was as a nested case-referent study in two cohorts of male Swedish seamen 20-64 years of age at the national census 1960 (n 13,449) and 1970 (n 11,290), respectively. Cases were detected by record linkage with the Swedish Cancer Register 1961-79 and 1971-87, respectively. For each case, three to five age matched referents from the population were selected. Exposure was assessed from data in the Swedish Registry of Seamen and from a register of Swedish ships. RESULTS: Seamen in the 1970 cohort, who had been exposed to cargo vapours for at least one month on chemical or product tankers, had an increased risk of lymphatic and haematopoietic malignancies (Mantel-Haenszel odds ratio (OR) 2.6, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.1 to 5.9)) with a significant exposure-response relation (conditional logistic regression analysis, p = 0.04). The ORs were increased for both lymphoma (3.2), multiple myeloma (4.0), and leukaemia (1.6), but the increase was only significant for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (OR 3.3, 95% CI 1.1 to 10.6). There were no significantly increased risks for the 1960 cohort or for seamen exposed only on crude oil tankers, but these groups had few exposed cases and low cumulative exposure to benzene and other light petroleum products. CONCLUSIONS: Seamen exposed to cargo vapours from gasoline and other light petroleum products on chemical or product tankers had an increased incidence of lymphatic and haematopoietic malignancies. One possible cause is exposure to benzene during loading, unloading, and tank cleaning operations.
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