Occupational exposure to wood, formaldehyde, and solvents and risk of nasopharyngeal carcinoma

Allan Hildesheim, Mustafa Dosemeci, Chang Chuan Chan, Chien Jen Chen, Yu Juen Cheng, Mow Ming Hsu, I. How Chen, Beth F. Mittl, Brenda Sun, Paul H. Levine, Jen Yang Chen, Louise A. Brinton, Czau Siung Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Article peer-review

139 Scopus citations


Our objective was to evaluate the link between occupational exposures to wood dust, formaldehyde, and solvents and the development of nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC). A case-control study was conducted among 375 newly diagnosed cases of NPC in Taipei, Taiwan, and 325 community controls matched to cases on sex, age, and geographical residence (99 and 87% response rates, respectively). Most cases (>90%) were diagnosed with WHO Types 2 or 3 (nonkeratinizing and undifferentiated carcinomas), whereas the remaining cases were diagnosed with WHO Type 1 (squamous cell carcinomas). A complete occupational history was obtained via a personal interview and blindly assessed by an industrial hygienist for intensity and probability of exposure to wood dust, formaldehyde, and solvents. Information on socio-demographic characteristics, cigarette smoking, dietary consumption of nitrosamines, and other potential confounding factors was obtained via a personal interview. Blood specimens were tested for human leukocyte antigen class I/II genotypes, polymorphisms in cytochrome P450 2E1 genotype, and various anti-EBV antibodies known to be associated with NPC. Analysis was performed using logistic regression; relative risk (RR) estimates and 95% confidence intervals (CI) were calculated. Individuals exposed to wood dust had an adjusted RR of 1.7 (95% CI = 1.0-3.0). Those exposed to wood dust for >10 years had an adjusted RR of 2.4 (95% CI = 1.1-5.0; ptrend = 0.02). Risk was strongest for those first exposed before the age of 25 years and those seropositive to EBV. Individuals exposed to formaldehyde were at a more modest and nonsignificant increased risk of NPC (RR = 1.4; 95% CI = 0.93-2.2). Those exposed to formaldehyde for > 10 years had an adjusted RR of 1.6 (95% CI = 0.91-2.9). The association between formaldehyde and NPC was stronger in analyses restricted to EBV seropositive individuals (RR = 2.7; 95% CI = 1.2-5.9). However, no dose response was observed with increasing duration or cumulative use. No association was observed between solvent exposure and NPC (RR = 1.2; 95% CI = 0.86-1.7). Occupational exposure to wood dust is likely to be involved in the development of NPC, a finding that is consistent with the known link between wood exposure and nasal adenocarcinomas. Formaldehyde exposure is less clearly linked to NPC, whereas exposure to solvents is unlikely to be involved in NPC pathogenesis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1145-1153
Number of pages9
JournalCancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


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