OBJECTIVES: To determine if there is an increased risk of admission to hospital for various diseases among vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) workers. METHODS: 2224 workers with occupational exposure to VCM were identified for occurrence of disease based on a search of hospital computer files on labour insurance. These data were compared with those of workers manufacturing optical equipment and motorcycles from 1 January 1985 to 31 March 1994. Cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases were used as reference diseases, and the age adjusted morbidity odds ratio (MOR) was calculated. RESULTS: A significantly increased risk of admission to hospital among VCM workers due to primary liver cancer (MOR 4.5-6.5), cirrhosis of the liver (MOR 1.7-2.1), and other chronic diseases (MOR 1.5-2.0) was found. There were eight cases of primary liver cancer, all with heavy previous exposure to VCM. Another four cases of hepatoma in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) workers were found in the death registry. Ten out of 11 cases of hepatoma, with detailed medical information, were carriers of hepatitis B virus. The average latent period (20 years) was not different from other studies. Alternative agents of primary liver cancer were largely ruled out, suggesting that the combination of hepatitis B and VCM may lead to primary liver cancer. CONCLUSION: There is an increased risk of primary liver cancer in workers exposed to VCM, although the incomplete coverage of the Labor Insurance Bureau data warrants cautious interpretation of the results. Further study exploring the synergistic effects of VCM and hepatitis B is also indicated.
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