Benzene-Related Cancers


Significant exposure to benzene causes serious damage to bone marrow, blood production processes, and the immune system. Lab experiments have demonstrated fundamental chromosomal changes in bone marrow tissue with benzene exposure.

Benzene bioaccumulates in bone marrow and fat, damages chromosomal structure & integrity, and causes the body’s blood production systems to release blasts -- immature white blood cells -- that divide uncontrollably in the bloodstream. 

Damage caused by benzene bioaccumulation also hampers red blood cell production causing anemia, as well as, lowering blood platelet counts creating the potential for excess bruising and bleeding when injured.

Individuals suffering from inhalation exposure to benzene will eliminate about half the benzene they inhale via exhalation. The other half crosses into the bloodstream and must therefore be metabolized by the liver. Benzene is hydrophobic and therefore very difficult for the liver to metabolize safely. The primary metabolic pathway for benzene elimination is via Cytochrome P450 channels, specifically the CYP2 family of enzymes. This is the same channel responsible for the metabolism of most prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Damage to these metabolic processes potentially affect the bioavailability and clearance of any drugs a benzene-exposed individual may be taking or any number of pre-existing conditions, posing further risks to the individual’s long-term health. CYP2 enzymes are also largely responsible for metabolizing any number of environmental toxins, to include other carcinogens besides benzene.

When an environmental toxin, such as benzene is metabolized by the liver, there are two stages of detoxification. The products of the first phase are know as intermediate metabolites and are often potentially even more toxic than the original substance. Benzene initially oxidizes into benzene oxide and epoxide. Neither of these are easily excrete by the body. The intermediate metabolites of benzene are largely responsible for its genotoxicity. It is these intermediate compounds that degrade cellular and chromosomal structures throughout tissues in the body, especially in bone marrow tissue, which dangerously increase the body’s oxidative stress and fundamentally damages the gene expression governing blood production.

Although benzene and its intermediates are eventually mostly excreted through the urine about forty-eight hours after exposure, long term, repeated exposure causes high levels of contamination in bone marrow tissue, severe anemia, chronic weakness and exhaustion, increased risk of severe infection as a result of lowered white blood cell counts, low blood platelet counts leading to excessive bruising and bleeding when injured, and potential female reproductive system damage, especially to ovarian tissue. Long term exposure to benzene is also linked to leukemia and other blood cancers and diseases, specifically Acute Myeloid Leukemia, Aplastic Anemia, and MyleoDyspastic Syndromes (MDS).

Acute Myeloid Luekemia

is a form of leukemia that develops in the bone marrow and progresses very quickly to the blood. If left untreated, the myeloid cells of the body, to include cells that normally develop into red & white blood cells, fail to develop completely and form blasts which divide uncontrollably in the bloodstream. Initial symptoms include extreme fatigue, increased vulnerability to recurrent infection, and bruising much more easily. This form of leukemia progresses quickly and must be treated aggressively with chemotherapy, other drug-therapies, and possibly, stem-cell transplants.

Aplastic Anemia

while often treated in a similar manner to leukemia with chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants, is not technically a cancer. It is a serious blood disease resulting from damage to the bone marrow which made be genetic or the result of chemical or radiation exposure. The body loses the capability to produce enough healthy blood cells. Individuals with Aplastic Anemia often experience neutropenia (low white blood cell counts) and must regularly take antibiotics in order to help their compromised immune systems fight off infection.

MyleoDyspatic Syndromes (MDS)

are considered a family of bone marrow and blood cancers in which the body can no longer produce enough healthy blood cells for the body to function properly. Red and white blood cells and blood platelets may also be malformed or released into the bloodstream before them mature fully. Treatment protocols for MDS vary based on the specific type and other individual patient factors, but may include drug therapies, immunosuppressant therapy, chemotherapy, and/or bone marrow transplants.