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Study Finds Link Between Benzene, Altered Genes

A 2014 study by Chinese doctors and scientists found a link between occupational exposure to benzene and increased levels of leukemia-associated gene expression even in those without leukemia.

The study, entitled “Increased Leukemia-Associated Gene Expression in Benzene-Exposed Workers, (Li)” draws a connection between benzene exposure and the development of genetic alterations related to the potential development of leukemia.

The Li study states “Benzene-induced decreases in blood cells could be observed within a few months after benzene exposure. However, there is a lag time of years between initial benzene exposure and the development of leukemia.”

The Li study’s authors said the benzene-related genetic changes could be used as biomarkers signaling leukemia risk in benzene-exposed workers. These markers could be detected long before a leukemia diagnosis, allowing more time for treatment.

Tianjin Medical University and Tianjin Central Gynecology Obstetrics Hospital researchers examined 33 shoe factory workers exposed to benzene at levels ranging from 1 to 10 ppm. Researchers divided the workers into three groups sorted by benzene exposure time: 1 – 7 years, 7 – 12 years, and 12 – 24 years of exposure. The scientists also recruited 17 unexposed, demographically similar subjects, matched to the other participants according to their age and smoking history.

All subjects answered a questionnaire about their work history, past and current tobacco and alcohol use, and medical history including infections and radiation exposure. Researchers sampled participants’ blood and screened it for genetic alterations associated with the development of leukemia.

The scientists found NOTCH1 and BSG chromosomal variation in the benzene-exposed workers. The Li study said those variations often play roles in leukemia development. The study’s findings show a statistically significant correlation between benzene exposure time and leukemia-related genetic changes. Alterations to the NOTCH1 chromosome were found to be roughly four times as likely in those with 12 to 24 years of benzene exposure as compared to the control group, who had no benzene exposure. The study also found three times as many BSG chromosomal changes in the benzene-exposed workers as the control group.

The study said benzene metabolites binding chlorine to DNA could cause potentially carcinogenic genetic alterations.

Leukemia is a group of cancers beginning in the bone marrow that cause abnormally high white blood cell counts. Leukemia is traditionally broken down into four main types: acute lymphoblastic leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and chronic myeloid leukemia.

Commonly understood leukemia risk factors include smoking, ionizing radiation, prior chemotherapy and certain chemical exposures, such as benzene compounds.

Benzene is an aromatic hydrocarbon compound used in the manufacture of plastics, resins and dyes. Numerous scientific studies detail benzene’s various adverse health effects, including acute myeloid leukemia, myelodysplastic syndrome, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Benzene is also commonly found in car exhaust and cigarette smoke. Benzene is used to increase gasoline’s octane rating, though concerns regarding groundwater leakage forced its regulation.

In 1982 The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified benzene as a known human carcinogen. Every major governmental agency agrees that benzene causes blood cancers in humans.

Industries most commonly linked to benzene exposure include petrochemical manufacturing, petroleum refining, coke and coal chemical manufacturing, rubber tire manufacturing, gasoline storage, shipment and retail operations, plastics and rubber manufacturing, and shoe manufacturing.

Occupations particularly vulnerable to benzene exposure include steel workers, printers, rubber workers, shoe makers, laboratory technicians and gas station employees.

If you believe your recent leukemia diagnosis might be related to benzene exposure, please contact the trial attorneys of Allen Stewart, P.C. The firm has decades of combined experience in helping those who have developed cancer due to toxic exposure.

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