Occupational exposure to formaldehyde and risk of lung cancer: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Kyeongmin Kwak, Domyung Paek, Jong Tae Park

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Formaldehyde exposure is associated with nasopharyngeal cancer and leukemia. Previously-described links between formaldehyde exposure and lung cancer have been weak and inconsistent. We performed a systematic review and meta-analysis to evaluate quantitatively the association between formaldehyde exposure and lung cancer. Methods: We searched for articles on occupational formaldehyde exposure and lung cancer in PubMed, EMBASE, Web of Science, and CINAHL databases. In total, 32 articles were selected and 31 studies were included in a meta-analysis. Subgroup analyses and quality assessments were also performed. Results: The risk of lung cancer among workers exposed to formaldehyde was not significantly increased, with an overall pooled risk estimate of 1.04 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.97-1.12). The pooled risk estimate of lung cancer was increased when higher exposure studies were considered (1.19; 95% CI, 0.96-1.46). More statistically robust results were obtained when high quality (1.13; 95% CI, 1.08-1.19) and recent (1.13; 95% CI, 1.07-1.19) studies were used in deriving pooled risk estimates. Conclusions: No significant increase in the risk of lung cancer was evident in the overall pooled risk estimate; even in higher formaldehyde exposure groups. Our findings do not provide strong evidence in favor of formaldehyde as a risk factor for lung cancer. However, since risk estimates were significantly increased for high-quality and recent studies, the possibility that exposure to formaldehyde can increase the risk of lung cancer might still be considered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)312-327
Number of pages16
JournalAmerican Journal of Industrial Medicine
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Apr 1


  • formaldehyde
  • lung cancer
  • meta-analysis
  • occupational exposure
  • respiratory cancer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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