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Cancer incidence among Swedish pulp and paper mill workers: a cohort study of sulphate and sulphite mills

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Abstract

Purpose

Associations between various malignancies and work in the pulp and paper industry have been reported but mostly in analyses of mortality rather than incidence. We aimed to study cancer incidence by main mill pulping process, department and gender in a Swedish cohort of pulp and paper mill workers.

Methods

The cohort (18,113 males and 2,292 females, enrolled from 1939 to 1999 with >1 year of employment) was followed up for cancer incidence from 1958 to 2001. Information on the workers’ department and employment was obtained from the mills’ personnel files, and standardized incidence ratios (SIRs) were calculated using the Swedish population as reference.

Results

Overall cancer incidence, in total 2,488 cases, was not increased by work in any department. However, risks of pleural mesothelioma were increased among males employed in sulphate pulping (SIR, 8.38; 95 % CI, 3.37–17) and maintenance (SIR, 6.35; 95 % CI, 3.47–11), with no corresponding increase of lung cancer. Testicular cancer risks were increased among males employed in sulphate pulping (SIR, 4.14; 95 % CI, 1.99–7.61) and sulphite pulping (SIR, 2.59; 95 % CI, 0.95–5.64). Female paper production workers showed increased risk of skin tumours other than malignant melanoma (SIR, 2.92; 95 % CI, 1.18–6.02).

Conclusions

Incidence of pleural mesothelioma was increased in the cohort, showing that asbestos exposure still has severe health consequences, and highlighting the exigency of strict asbestos regulations and elimination. Testicular cancer was increased among pulping department workers. Shift work and endocrine disruptors could be of interest in this context.

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Acknowledgments

This study was supported by the Swedish Council for Worklife Research. We acknowledge the technical assistance provided by Malte Nordqvist.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare they have no actual or potential competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Eva Andersson.

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Andersson, E., Westberg, H., Bryngelsson, IL. et al. Cancer incidence among Swedish pulp and paper mill workers: a cohort study of sulphate and sulphite mills. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 86, 529–540 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00420-012-0785-1

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