Cancer risk from occupational and environmental exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

Paolo Boffetta, Nadia Jourenkova, Per Gustavsson

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892 Scopus citations


Epidemiologic evidence on the relationship between polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and cancer is reviewed. High occupational exposure to PAHs occurs in several industries and occupations. Covered here are aluminum production, coal gasification, coke production, iron and steel foundries, tar distillation, shale oil extraction, wood impregnation, roofing, road paving, carbon black production, carbon electrode production, chimney sweeping, and calcium carbide production. In addition, workers exposed to diesel engine exhaust in the transport industry and in related occupations are exposed to PAHs and nitro-PAHs. Heavy exposure to PAHs entails a substantial risk of lung, skin, and bladder cancer, which is not likely to be due to other carcinogenic exposures present in the same industries. The lung seems to be the major target organ of PAH carcinogenicity and increased risk is present in most of the industries and occupations listed above. An increased risk of skin cancer follows high dermal exposure. An increase in bladder cancer risk is found mainly in industries with high exposure to PAHs from coal tars and pitches. Increased risks have been reported for other organs, namely the larynx and the kidney; the available evidence, however, is inconclusive. The results of studies addressing environmental PAH exposure are consistent with these conclusions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)444-472
Number of pages29
JournalCancer Causes and Control
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Bladder cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Occupational exposures
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
  • Skin cancer


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