Formaldehyde and leukemia: Epidemiology, potential mechanisms, and implications for risk assessment

Luoping Zhang, Laura E. Beane Freeman, Jun Nakamura, Stephen S. Hecht, John J. Vandenberg, Martyn T. Smith, Babasaheb R. Sonawane

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

88 Scopus citations


Formaldehyde is widely used in the United States and other countries. Occupational and environmental exposures to formaldehyde may be associated with an increased risk of leukemia in exposed individuals. However, risk assessment of formaldehyde and leukemia has been challenging due to inconsistencies in human and animal studies and the lack of a known mechanism for leukemia induction. Here, we provide a summary of the symposium at the Environmental Mutagen Society Meeting in 2008, which focused on the epidemiology of formaldehyde and leukemia, potential mechanisms, and implication for risk assessment, with emphasis on future directions in multidisciplinary formaldehyde research. Updated results of two of the three largest industrial cohort studies of formaldehyde-exposed workers have shown positive associations with leukemia, particularly myeloid leukemia, and a recent meta-analysis of studies to date supports this association. Recent mechanistic studies have shown the formation of formaldehyde-induced DNA adducts and characterized the essential DNA repair pathways that mitigate formaldehyde toxicity. The implications of the updated findings for the design of future studies to more effectively assess the risk of leukemia arising from formaldehyde exposure were discussed and specific recommendations were made. A toxicogenomic approach in experimental models and human exposure studies, together with the measurement of biomarkers of internal exposure, such as formaldehyde-DNA and protein adducts, should prove fruitful. It was recognized that increased communication among scientists who perform epidemiology, toxicology, biology, and risk assessment could enhance the design of future studies, which could ultimately reduce uncertainty in the risk assessment of formaldehyde and leukemia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)181-191
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental and Molecular Mutagenesis
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2010


  • DNA adducts
  • DNA damage
  • Epidemiology
  • Formaldehyde
  • Myeloid leukemia
  • Risk assessment


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