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Geographical differences in cancer incidence in the Amazon basin of Ecuador in relation to residence near oil fields

Citation: International Journal of Epidemiology, 2002, 31, 5, 1021-1027

Background: Since 1972, oil companies have extracted more than 2 billion barrels of crude oil from the Ecuadorian Amazon, releasing billions of gallons of untreated wastes and oil directly into the environment. This study aimed to determine if there was any difference in overall and specific cancer incidence rates between populations living in proximity to oil fields and those who live in areas free from oil exploitation. Methods: Cancer cases from the provinces of Sucumbios, Orellana, Napo and Pastaza during the period 1985?1998 were included in the study. The exposed population was defined as those living in a county (n = 4) where oil exploitation had been ongoing for a minimum of 20 years up to the date of the study. Non-exposed counties were identified as those (n = 11) without oil development activities. Relative risks (RR) along with 95% CI were calculated for men and women as ratios of the age-adjusted incidence rates in the exposed versus non-exposed group. Results: The RR of all cancer sites combined was significantly elevated in both men and women in exposed counties. Significantly elevated RR were observed for cancers of the stomach, rectum, skin melanoma, soft tissue and kidney in men and for cancers of the cervix and lymph nodes in women. An increase in haematopoietic cancers was also observed in the population under 10 years in the exposed counties in both males and females. Conclusion: Study results are compatible with a relationship between cancer incidence and living in proximity to oil fields. An environmental monitoring and cancer surveillance system in the area is recommended.

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