Benzene

At a Glance

Benzene is one of the most widely produced chemicals in the world. Benzene is used in the production of other chemicals and is present in the atmosphere. It is a known human carcinogen.

What is benzene?

Benzene is a useful organic solvent. It is a natural product of crude oil and is also produced intentionally.  Benzene is used in the production of plastics, nylons, chemicals, detergent, dyes and many other things.[1],[2]

Where is benzene found?

Benzene is released into the atmosphere through gasoline fumes, automobile exhaust, cigarette smoke, volcanoes, crude oil and wildfires. Traces of benzene can be found in a variety of chemicals. Food and drinking water also can be contaminated with benzene.[3]

What evidence links benzene to breast cancer?

Benzene is a known human carcinogen.[4] Several studies suggest that occupational exposure to benzene and other solvents may be linked to increased risk of breast cancer.[5] Exposure for longer periods of time and at younger ages increased the risk for breast cancer.[6],[7]

  • Women in Shanghai who were exposed to benzene through various occupations showed an elevated risk for breast cancer.[8]
  • A group of 797 female shoemakers in Italy were found to have a slightly higher breast cancer incidence and mortality rate after working with benzene-based glues.[9]
  • One study found that men who had been exposed to combustion products of automobiles for over three months experienced an elevated risk for breast cancer.[10]
  • Women who served on active duty in the military and were exposed to solvents such as benzene for over a year also experienced an elevated incidence of breast cancer.[11]
  • A study of a Marine Corps base camp in North Carolina found that men who drank water containing benzene and other contaminants experienced elevated rates of breast cancer 10 years later.[12]

Who is most likely to be exposed to benzene?

  • People working in occupations with potential benzene exposure, such as auto mechanics.

Who is most vulnerable to the health effects of benzene?

Women who are exposed earlier and for a longer period of time may be at elevated risk.[13],[14]

What are the top tips to avoid exposure benzene?

  • Minimize exposure to vehicle exhaust.[15]
  • Limit use of commercial products that contain any form of “benzol,” which could contain traces of benzene.[16]
  • Limit exposure to cigarette smoke.[17]
  • Avoid glues, paints and solvents that contain benzene.[18],[19]

[1] Benzene. (2011). Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry. http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/substances/toxsubstance.asp?toxid=14. Accessed June 21, 2016.

[2] IARC: International Agency for Research on Cancer. IARC monographs. Benzene. Available online:  http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol100F/mono100F-24.pdf. Accessed June, 2016.

[3] NTP (National Toxicology Program). 2014. Report on Carcinogens, Thirteenth Edition. Research Triangle Park, NC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.  http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/pubhealth/roc/roc13/. Accessed June 23, 2016.

[4] Brody, J. & Rudel, R. (2003). Environmental Pollutants and Breast Cancer. Environmental Health Perspective, 111:1007–1019

[5] Fenga, C. (2016). Occupational exposure and risk of breast cancer. Biomedical Reports, 4(3): 28-292

[6] Hansen, J. (2000). Elevated risk for male breast cancer after occupational exposure to gasoline and vehicular combustion products. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 37:349–352.

[7] Rennix, C., Quinn, M., Amoroso, P., Eisen, E., & Wegman, D. (2005). Risk of breast cancer among enlisted army women occupationally exposed to volatile organic compounds. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 48:157–167.

[8] Petralia, S., Chow, H., McLaughlin, J., Jin, F., Gao, Y. & Dosemeci, M. (1998). Occupational risk factors for breast cancer among women in Shanghai. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 34:477–483.

[9] Constantini, A., Giuseppe, G., Consonni, D., Miligi, L., Giovannetti, L. & Quinn, M. (2009). Exposure to benzene and risk of breast cancer among shoe factory workers in Italy. Tumori, 95:8–12

[10] Hansen, J. (2000). Elevated risk for male breast cancer after occupational exposure to gasoline and vehicular combustion products. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 37:349–352.

[11] Rennix, C., Quinn, M., Amoroso, P., Eisen, E., & Wegman, D. (2005). Risk of breast cancer among enlisted army women occupationally exposed to volatile organic compounds. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 48: 157–167.

[12] Ruckart, P., Bove, F., Shanley III, E. & Maslia, M. (2015). Evaluation of contaminated drinking water and male breast cancer at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina: a case control study. Environmental Health, 14:74.

[13] Hansen, J. (2000). Elevated risk for male breast cancer after occupational exposure to gasoline and vehicular combustion products. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 37:349–352.

[14] Rennix, C., Quinn, M., Amoroso, P., Eisen, E., & Wegman, D. (2005) Risk of breast cancer among enlisted army women occupationally exposed to volatile organic compounds. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 48: 157–167.

[15] Hansen, J. (2000). Elevated risk for male breast cancer after occupational exposure to gasoline and vehicular combustion products. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 37:349–352.

[16] Huff, J., Hoseman, J., DeMarini, D., Eustis, S., Maronpot, R., Peters, A., Persing, R., Chrisp, C. & Jacobs, A. (1989). Multiple-site carcinogenicity of benzene in Fischer 344 rats and B6C3F Mice. Environmental Health Perspectives, 82: 125–163.

[17]   NTP (National Toxicology Program). 2014. Report on Carcinogens, Thirteenth Edition. Research Triangle Park, NC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.  http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/pubhealth/roc/roc13/. Accessed June 23, 2016.

[18] Exposure to Benzene: A Major Public Health Concern. (2010). World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/ipcs/features/benzene.pdf. Accessed June 20, 2016.

[19] Constantini, A., Giuseppe, G., Consonni, D., Miligi, L., Giovannetti, L. & Quinn, M. (2009). Exposure to benzene and risk of breast cancer among shoe factory workers in Italy. Tumori, 95:8–12.

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