Occupational Gasoline Exposure May Increase Kidney Cancer Risk

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People who have experienced high exposures to gasoline might be at an increased risk for kidney cancer, according to recent research.

Occupational gasoline exposure may cause an uptick in kidney cancer, according to Canadian study results published in Annals of Work Exposures and Health.

As kidney cancer is the fifth most commonly diagnosed cancer among Canadian men, there are few known risk factors for the disease, the researchers wrote.

The ON-DECK (Ontario study of Diesel Exhaust and Cancer of the Kidney) study originally sought to determine the effects of diesel, silica and asbestos exposure. The researchers then added gasoline exhaust exposure to their study interests because, although it was not a known carcinogen, it appeared to be similar in source and form to diesel exhaust.

Unexpectedly, the researchers did not have significant findings when it came to silica, asbestos and diesel exposure.

“For gasoline exhaust, which remember was the one we didn’t really expect anything from, we found some pretty convincing relationships with exposure and an increased risk of kidney cancer,” study author Cheryl Peters, Ph.D., PhD research scientist, Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Research, adjunct assistant professor, Preventive Oncology & Community Health Sciences at the Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary.

There was an observed dose-response relationship between gasoline exposure and kidney cancer, meaning that as a worker’s exposure increased, as did their risk for disease — a “classic barometer” of determining whether or not something causes cancer, Peters said.

Gasoline exposure could be particularly high for workers who spend a lot of their day around vehicles, with exposure being even greater if there is not proper ventilation in their work space.

Peters mentioned that she hopes her team’s findings will cause people to think more broadly about substances that might cause cancer, especially since gasoline exposure was previously studied in the lung cancer space and was not found to be correlated with the disease.

“One study isn’t enough to change the world, that’s the nature of science,” Peters said. “But I do hope that this inspires other researchers to start to rethink some of our ‘old’ carcinogens and wonder, ‘maybe it causes cancer somewhere else in the body, too?’”

The findings also open doors for future research for Peters and her team. They are now working on a new study examining air pollution exposures in non-lung cancers more broadly.

“There is also a great deal of interest in continuing this line of research in occupational settings in Canada and beyond,” she said. “Occupational settings are ideal because the exposures tend to be much higher, so it’s easier to detect a relationship between exposures and diseases — if one exists!”