Carcinogenicity

The IARC classifies trichloroethylene as probably carcinogenic (Group 2A). This is based on limited evidence for carcinogenicity in humans and sufficient evidence for carcinogenicity in experimental animals.

An association between trichloroethylene and cancer is controversial (Ramlow, 1995). An increased risk for malignant neoplasms was found in a study which examined 330 death certificates of workers in the dry cleaning industry (Blair et al., 1979). At this time the most common chemicals used were carbon tetrachloride, trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene and petroleum solvents. An increased incidence of lung and cervical cancers were found with a slight excess in the incidence of leukaemia and liver cancer. An increased incidence of hepatocellular carcinoma has been reported in experimental animals, but it is unlikely that trichloroethylene causes increased hepatocellular cancer in humans (Elcombe, 1985).

Aircraft manufacturing workers routinely exposed to trichloroethylene (and other chemicals) did not have an increased incidence of lung cancer or total cancer. Slight to moderately increased rates of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma were found among workers exposed to trichloroethylene, but these differences were not significant (Boice et al., 1999).

A retrospective study of workers in a cardboard factory was carried out to investigate the association between exposure to trichloroethylene and renal cancer (Henschler et al., 1995). They found 5 cases of renal cancer in a group of 169 subjects. The authors concluded that exposure to high concentrations of trichloroethylene over prolonged periods of time may cause renal tumours in adults. However, this study was criticised for its methodology (Bloemen and Tomenson, 1995; Swaen, 1995) and other studies have failed to find a link between renal cancer and exposure to trichloroethylene (McLaughlin and Blot, 1997).

In a study examining the occupational history of white men who had died of brain cancer, an association of astrocytic brain cancer was observed in those possibly exposed to trichloroethylene (Heineman et al., 1994).

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