Nurse’s Cancer Diagnosis Shows Possible Formaldehyde Link
Cancer researchers have linked formaldehyde exposure to respiratory tract cancers. However, much of that research regarded formaldehyde exposure in wood working and carpentry-related professions. A 2014 study drew correlations between cancer and occupational formaldehyde exposures in the healthcare industry.
The medical publication Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology in 2014 published “Sinonasal adenoid cystic carcinoma in the operating theater (Sandvik)”. The study details a case in which a woman developed sinonasal adenoid cystic carcinoma after a 31-year auxiliary nursing career.
Adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC) is a distinctive cancer type showing a sieve-like small malignant cell pattern. ACC most often appears in the oral cavity’s minor and major salivary glands, but occasionally appears in the sinonasal tract.
Sandvik presents the case of a 72-year-old woman experiencing numbness below her left eye. A CT scan revealed a tumor in her left maxillary sinus. Subsequent exploratory surgery and further tissue testing confirmed the ACC diagnosis.
The patient worked 31 years as an auxiliary nurse at a local hospital. She worked exclusively as an operating theater nurse for 11 years, handling biopsies and tissue samples preserved with formaldehyde.
The patient frequently stored tissue samples and organs inside large and small formaldehyde containers. Throughout her 11-year operating theater stint she disinfected the theater after use, and disposed of used formaldehyde according to regulations. Doctors diagnosed the patient’s cancer 45 years following her first known formaldehyde exposure.
The patient never wore protective respirators.
“Both surgeons and nurses may have been exposed to formaldehyde in the operating theaters of the hospital,” the Sandvik researchers said. “However, by directly handling the formaldehyde for tissue samples and for disinfection of the operating theater, our patient was conceivably exposed to higher levels of formaldehyde vapors than her fellow workers.”
The scientists say the 45-year latency period between the first formaldehyde exposure and cancer diagnosis resembles the sometimes long latency period seen in wood dust-related respiratory cancer diagnoses. Previous studies correlated many formaldehyde-related cancers with wood dust exposure, but this patient had no occupational wood dust exposure. Further, salivary gland cancers show no particular wood dust exposure link.
“We believe that there is reason for occupational physicians to remain alert to formaldehyde exposure as an occupational hazard among health care workers,” the study said.
Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable chemical used in building materials and to produce several household products. It is most popularly known as a preservative in mortuaries and medical laboratories. It is also used in pressed-wood products including particleboard, plywood and fiberboard. It is further used in glues, adhesives, permanent-press fabrics, paper product coatings, and certain insulation materials. Some paints and cosmetics can contain formaldehyde.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, most Americans are exposed to formaldehyde via pressed-wood products and furnishings used in homes. Cigarette smoke is also a source, as well as the use of unvented fuel-burning appliances including gas stoves, wood burning stoves and kerosene heaters.
If you believe your recent cancer diagnosis might be related to formaldehyde 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.