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Study of two solvents links on-the-job exposure to head and neck cancer in women

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Villejuif, France – Occupational exposure to chlorinated solvents perchloroethylene and trichloroethylene may increase the risk of head and neck cancer in women, according to a study published online Jan. 9 in the journal BMJ Open.

A common chlorinated solvent, TCE often is used as a metal degreaser. PCE, once widely used in dry cleaning, metal degreasing and machinery cleaning, has been used on a more limited basis since the 1990s, according to researchers.

Using data from the French population-based study Investigation of occupational and environmental CAuses of REspiratory cancers (ICARE), the researchers analyzed 1,071 women, including 296 with head and neck cancer. They used three exposure indices for various solvents: probability of exposure expressed as the percentage of exposed workers, intensity of exposure, and frequency of exposure. In addition to occupational history, factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption and residential history were taken into account.

Results showed elevated odds ratios among women who were exposed to perchloroethylene and trichloroethylene at work, which increased the more the women were exposed. In contrast, the researchers did not find a statistically significant risk association for women exposed to other chlorinated, oxygenated or petroleum solvents.

In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency found TCE may cause cancer, developmental and neurotoxicological effects, and toxicity to the liver, among other adverse health effects. That same year, the International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded PCE was “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

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