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Higher Incidence of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Found in Regions with Close Proximity to Benzene Release Sites

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Key Points

  • Occupational benzene exposure has been linked to increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), and studies have suggested that even low levels of the chemical carcinogen can be harmful.
  • The incidence of NHL was significantly greater than expected surrounding benzene release sites located in the metro-Atlanta area and surrounding one benzene release site in Savannah.
  • For every mile the average distance to benzene release sites increased, there was a 0.31% decrease in the risk of NHL.

The incidence of a non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is significantly higher in regions near facilities that release the chemical benzene into the environment, according to a new study published early online in Cancer. This and other studies like it will be critical to identifying and enacting public health policies to decrease or prevent cancer, the study authors wrote.

As industrial production in the United States has expanded over the past few decades, the incidence of NHL has been on the rise. Numerous studies have supported the link between the occupational benzene exposure and NHL, suggesting that even low levels of the chemical carcinogen can be harmful. Working with Christopher Flowers, MD, MS., and colleagues in the Lymphoma Program at Emory University in Atlanta, Catherine Bulka, MPH, used publicly available data from the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Census Bureau to analyze the geographic patterns of non-Hodgkin lymphoma cases in the state of Georgia between 1999 and 2008. The group examined the associations between new cases of lymphoma and the locations of facilities—such as petroleum refineries and manufacturing plants—that released benzene into the surrounding air or water.

Study Results

The investigators found that the metro-Atlanta region, Augusta, and Savannah had the highest incidences of NHL even when controlling for population size as well as for age, sex, and race demographics of the local region. Also, the incidence of NHL was significantly greater than expected surrounding benzene release sites located in the metro-Atlanta area and surrounding one benzene release site in Savannah. For every mile the average distance to benzene release sites increased, there was a 0.31% decrease in the risk of NHL.

“Our study is the first to examine the relationship between passive benzene exposure and the incidence of non-Hodgkin lymphoma at the state population level,” said Dr. Bulka. “Our findings are limited without similar studies to corroborate our results, but we hope that our research will inform readers of the potential risks of living near facilities that release carcinogens into the air, groundwater, or soil,” she added.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.


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