cancer in the histology lab (was 10% formaldehyde)

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Donna Barlow at Duke University in North Carolina writes:

>>We have technicians working in our surgical pathology lab that have had or 
are dealing with cancer. The cancers these people have dealt with  and are 
dealing with are breast cancer, colon, kidney, uterine, ovarian, and 
abdominal cancer.<<

None of these cancers (with the possible exception of kidney) is thought to 
be related to exposure to environmental carcinogens. If people were getting 
cancers related to inhaled carcinogens, you'd expect cancers of the head and 
neck, lungs, and urinary bladder. To imply that these unfortunate people are 
developing cancer because they're exposed to laboratory chemicals raises 
needless anxiety among people who are exposed to them.

Unfortunately, the facts are fewer than they should be. The AMA tracks causes 
of death of American physicians quite carefully. The causes of death of 
American pathologists don't differ from those of other physicians (whereas 
radiologists, at least the older generation, differ profoundly). It seems to 
me that that fact goes a long way to exonerate formaldehyde as a major human 
carcinogen, since pathologists probably get more formaldehyde exposure than 
anybody else in the average lab (well, at least  I do!)

If there's a suspect carcinogen in the histology lab it's xylene (along with 
the closely related benzene and toluene). Here histotechnologists get more 
exposure than pathologists. Unfortunately, the causes of death of 
histotechnologists are not well documented. I think it would be a good idea 
for NSH to start collecting the death certificates of its members past and 
present, but only a minority of histotechs belong to NSH, and many people get 
several years of exposure, leave the field forever, and would thus be lost to 
such follow-up. (AMA tracks all American physicians, members or not.)

Bob Richmond
Samurai Pathologist
Knoxville TN

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