Soft tissue sarcoma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia in workers exposed to phenoxy herbicides: extended follow-up of a UK cohort

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To provide further information on the possible carcinogenicity of phenoxy herbicides, and in particular their relationship to soft tissue sarcoma (STS), non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL).


We extended follow-up to December 2012 for 8036 men employed at five factories in the UK which had manufactured phenoxy herbicides, or in a contract spraying business. Mortality was compared with that for England and Wales by the person-years method. Nested case–control analyses compared men with incident or fatal STS (n=15) or NHL/CLL (n=74) and matched controls (up to 10 per case).


4093 men had died, including 2303 since the last follow-up. Mortality from all causes and all cancers was close to expectation, but an excess of deaths from NHL was observed among men who had worked for ≥1 year in jobs with more than background exposure to phenoxy herbicides (19 deaths, SMR 1.85, 95% CI 1.12 to 2.89). Four deaths from STS occurred among men potentially exposed above background (3.3 expected). In the nested case–control analyses, there were no significantly elevated risks or consistent trends across categories of potential exposure for either STS or NHL/CLL. Among men who had worked for ≥1 year in potentially exposed jobs, the highest OR (for STS) was only 1.30 (95% CI 0.30 to 5.62).


Our findings are consistent with the current balance of epidemiological evidence. If phenoxy herbicides pose a hazard of either STS or NHL, then any absolute increase in risk is likely to be small.

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