Cancer risk of petroleum workers and residents of oil communities
Increased risk of different cancer types in workers employed in petroleum industries and residents living in oil producing communities by Felix Onyije, Bayan Hosseini, Kayo Togawa,
Joachim Schüz, and Ann Olsson
Considerable health conditions are caused by environmental pollutants, including emissions from petroleum extraction and refining. They are major sources of environmental and occupational air pollution exposures and may therefore contribute to the global cancer burden.
What we did
We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of 41 cohort studies, 14 case-control studies, and two cross-sectional studies to assess cancer risk in workers employed in petroleum industries and residents living in oil producing communities.
Overall, petroleum industry work was associated with an increased risk of mesothelioma (ES = 2.09, CI: 1.58–2.76), skin melanoma (ES = 1.34, CI: 1.06–1.70) multiple myeloma (ES =1.81, CI: 1.28–2.55), and cancers of the prostate (ES = 1.13, Cl: 1.05–1.22) and urinary bladder (ES = 1.25, CI: 1.09–1.43) and a decreased risk of cancers of the esophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, and pancreas. Offshore petroleum work was associated with an increased risk of lung cancer (ES = 1.20; 95% CI: 1.03–1.39) and leukaemia (ES = 1.47; 95% CI: 1.12–1.92) in stratified analysis. Residential proximity to petroleum facilities was associated with childhood leukaemia (ES = 1.90, CI: 1.34–2.70).
Many of the associations however appear to be due to factors other than those directly emerging from the petroleum production, including the inverse associations.
Take home message
The study provides evidence that petroleum industry workers and residents living near petroleum facilities are at an increased risk of developing several different cancer types.
More research needed
The authors point out that further studies on the effect of exposure to petroleum and its closest derivatives (e.g. benzene) are needed in order to identify how they modify cancer risk.
In particular, there is a need for targeted studies in under-researched areas of high petroleum production with presumably higher exposures.
The best way forward may be an international consortium to guide new studies in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, in order to harmonize how studies are carried out and how exposure is assessed.
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