Formaldehyde as a Carcinogen: Understanding the Risks

by | Dec 15, 2023 | Chemical Injury, Formaldehyde Exposure, Personal Injury, Work Injury, Workplace Injuries, Workplace Safety

Formaldehyde, a colorless and strong-smelling chemical compound, has long been recognized as a carcinogen, posing significant health risks upon prolonged exposure. Classified as a human carcinogen by several health organizations, including the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), formaldehyde is widely used in various industries such as manufacturing, construction, and healthcare.

The link between formaldehyde as a carcinogen and increased risks of nasopharyngeal cancer and myeloid leukemia has been extensively studied. This underscores the importance of understanding and mitigating the potential hazards associated with this chemical compound in occupational and environmental settings.

That is exactly why the chemical injury attorneys at Kherkher Garcia have compiled the information in this article. Below, we provide information about formaldehyde as a carcinogen along with an overview of the types of cancer most commonly linked to formaldehyde. We also provide information on how you can get help if you are diagnosed with cancer and believe that formaldehyde is the cause. Top of Form

Formaldehyde as a Carcinogen

Formaldehyde is a widely used chemical found in various products and environments, but it also carries a significant risk of causing cancer. Here is a breakdown of its carcinogenicity:

  • Strong Scientific Data: The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization, classifies formaldehyde as a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning there is sufficient evidence it causes cancer in humans.
  • Studies: Research, particularly on occupational exposure, has linked formaldehyde to specific cancers, including:
    • Nasopharyngeal cancer: This cancer affects the upper part of the throat behind the nose.
    • Leukemia: Particularly myeloid leukemia, which is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
    • Other Nasal and Sinus Cancers: Studies suggest a possible link, but evidence is less conclusive.

The exact mechanism by which formaldehyde causes cancer isn’t fully understood, but it’s believed to involve:

  • DNA Damage: Formaldehyde can damage DNA, the genetic material in cells, which can lead to uncontrolled cell growth and cancer development.
  • Inflammation: Chronic exposure to formaldehyde can trigger inflammation in the nasal passages and respiratory tract, potentially creating an environment conducive to cancer development.

Exposure to Formaldehyde

While occupational exposure is a major concern, the general public can also be exposed to formaldehyde through:

  • Building Materials: Pressed-wood products like plywood and particleboard often contain formaldehyde resins.
  • Household Products: Some furniture, adhesives, and cleaning products may release formaldehyde.
  • Outdoor Air: Cigarette smoke, vehicle exhaust, and industrial emissions can contribute to ambient formaldehyde levels.

While exposure is sometimes unavoidable, steps can be taken to reduce risk. If you live or work in an area that may contain formaldehyde, consider the following measures:

  • Limit Exposure: Choose products with low or no formaldehyde content. Ensure adequate ventilation in homes and workplaces.
  • Follow Safety Guidelines: Workers handling formaldehyde should wear appropriate protective gear and follow workplace safety protocols.
  • Monitor Air Quality: Consider using air purifiers to reduce indoor formaldehyde levels.

The risk of cancer from formaldehyde increases with duration and intensity of exposure. Individual susceptibility can vary depending on factors like genetics and overall health.

Cancers Caused by Formaldehyde

Prolonged exposure to formaldehyde has been associated with an increased risk of certain cancers. The cancers most commonly linked to formaldehyde exposure include:

  • Nasopharyngeal Cancer: This type of cancer affects the nasopharynx, the upper part of the throat behind the nose.
  • Leukemia: Specifically, myeloid leukemia, which affects the bone marrow and blood cells.

While these cancers have been associated with formaldehyde exposure, it is important to note that cancer development often involves various factors, including genetics, lifestyle, and other environmental exposures. Therefore, formaldehyde exposure might contribute to an increased risk of these cancers but might not be the sole cause.

Overview of Nasopharyngeal Cancer

Nasopharyngeal cancer is a rare type of head and neck cancer that originates in the nasopharynx, the upper part of the throat situated behind the nose and above the back of the throat. This type of cancer develops when cells in the nasopharynx mutate and grow uncontrollably, forming a tumor. Below is a general overview of nasopharyngeal cancer.

Risk Factors

  • Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) Infection: In some cases, the Epstein-Barr virus, a common virus that causes infectious mononucleosis (mono), is associated with an increased risk of nasopharyngeal cancer.
  • Family History: Individuals with a family history of nasopharyngeal cancer have a higher risk.
  • Certain Ethnicities: It is more common in certain ethnic groups, particularly people of Asian descent, including Chinese, Southeast Asians, and Indigenous peoples.


Symptoms of nasopharyngeal cancer may include:

  • Nasal Symptoms: Such as a stuffy nose, nasal congestion, or nosebleeds.
  • Hearing Changes: Including ringing in the ears or hearing loss.
  • Trouble Breathing or Speaking: Due to blockage in the nasal passage or growth affecting the airway.
  • Enlarged Lymph Nodes: Particularly in the neck.
  • Other Symptoms: Sore throat, headaches, and double vision in some cases.


The process of diagnosing nasopharyngeal cancer often involves multiple exams and tests, such as:

  • Physical Examination: Including an examination of the nasopharynx using a small, lighted tube (endoscope).
  • Imaging Tests: Such as MRI, CT scans, or PET scans to visualize the tumor and determine its size and location.
  • Biopsy: Removal and examination of a tissue sample from the suspected tumor area to confirm cancerous cells.


There are several options for treating nasopharyngeal cancer, with the treatment plan being based on the patient’s individual circumstances, stage of cancer, and other factors. Some of the most common treatment options include:

  • Radiation Therapy: Often the primary treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer, targeting the tumor with high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy: Sometimes used in combination with radiation therapy to enhance its effectiveness.
  • Surgery: Reserved for certain cases, typically if the cancer hasn’t responded to other treatments or in specific situations where surgical removal is feasible.


A cancer diagnosis is certainly scary, but it does not mean that the prognosis is immediately poor. The prognosis for nasopharyngeal cancer depends on factors such as:

  • Early Detection: If diagnosed early, when the cancer is localized, the prognosis is generally better.
  • Stage and Spread: The stage of the cancer and whether it has spread to nearby lymph nodes or other organs significantly impacts the prognosis.
  • Treatment Response: How well the cancer responds to treatment also influences the outlook.

Regular screenings, especially for individuals with known risk factors, and seeking medical attention for persistent symptoms related to the nasopharynx can aid in early detection and better management of nasopharyngeal cancer.

Overview of Myeloid Leukemia

Myeloid leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the bone marrow and blood-forming tissues. It arises from abnormal growth of myeloid cells, which are a type of white blood cell responsible for fighting infections, carrying oxygen, and controlling bleeding. The abnormal cells proliferate uncontrollably, crowding out healthy blood cells in the bone marrow. Below is a general overview of myeloid leukemia. There are two primary types of myeloid leukemia:

  • Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML): This form progresses rapidly, causing the rapid accumulation of immature myeloid cells in the bone marrow. AML can occur in both adults and children.
  • Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML): CML progresses more slowly, characterized by the overproduction of mature, abnormal myeloid cells. It mainly affects adults.

Risk Factors

  • Genetic Factors: Certain genetic mutations, such as the Philadelphia chromosome, are associated with increased risk, particularly in CML.
  • Exposure to Radiation or Chemicals: Prolonged exposure to high levels of radiation or certain chemicals like formaldehyde or benzene might increase the risk.
  • Previous Chemotherapy: Some cancer treatments, especially certain chemotherapy drugs, may increase the risk of developing leukemia later in life.


There are many symptoms often associated with myeloid leukemia, some of which are also common in other, less severe, conditions. It is important to be aware of potential symptoms and talk to your doctor about the following if you are routinely exposed to formaldehyde.

  • Fatigue: Due to anemia resulting from a shortage of red blood cells.
  • Increased Infections: Because of reduced white blood cell count.
  • Easy Bruising or Bleeding: Caused by low platelet counts, which help blood clotting.
  • Bone Pain: Particularly in the long bones or abdomen.
  • Enlarged Spleen: Resulting from the accumulation of abnormal blood cells.


Diagnosing myeloid leukemia is done through a series of exams, blood work, and other testing. The general diagnostic process often includes the following:

  • Blood Tests: To examine the blood cell counts and look for abnormal cells.
  • Bone Marrow Biopsy: Extraction and examination of a sample from the bone marrow to confirm the presence of leukemia cells and determine the subtype.
  • Genetic Testing: To identify specific genetic mutations or markers that may guide treatment decisions.


Like other types of cancer, treating myeloid leukemia depends on various factors, such as the type, stage, and the patient’s overall health. Some of the most common treatment options include:

  • Chemotherapy: The primary treatment for AML and often a part of the treatment regimen for CML.
  • Targeted Therapy: Drugs that target specific genetic mutations, such as tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) for CML.
  • Stem Cell Transplant: For some cases, particularly when other treatments haven’t been successful, a transplant of healthy stem cells might be considered.


The prognosis for myeloid leukemia largely depends on factors such as the stage, response to treatment, and whether the cancer enters remission. The prognosis is also often better for patients who are dedicated to following treatment protocols and avoiding carcinogens like formaldehyde in the future.

  • Response to Treatment: Prognosis depends on various factors, including the subtype of leukemia, the patient’s age, overall health, and the response to treatment.
  • Remission: Achieving remission, where there’s no evidence of leukemia cells, is the primary goal of treatment.

Regular follow-ups and ongoing medical care are essential for individuals with myeloid leukemia to monitor the response to treatment and manage any potential complications. Treatment advancements continue to improve outcomes and quality of life for individuals diagnosed with this type of leukemia.

How to Get Help if You Have Cancer Associated with Formaldehyde

If you have been diagnosed with cancer and suspect that formaldehyde exposure might be the cause, it is important to seek appropriate medical care and legal support. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Consult with a Medical Professional: Schedule an appointment with an oncologist or healthcare provider experienced in treating cancer. Discuss your medical history, symptoms, and concerns about formaldehyde exposure.
  • Provide Detailed Information: Be prepared to provide detailed information about your potential exposure to formaldehyde. This could include the duration, type, and intensity of exposure, such as the nature of your work, hobbies, or environments where you might have encountered formaldehyde.
  • Request Tests or Investigations: Ask your healthcare provider about relevant tests or investigations that can help determine the potential link between formaldehyde exposure and your cancer diagnosis. This might involve specific blood tests, biopsies, or imaging studies.
  • Seek Supportive Services: Dealing with a cancer diagnosis can be emotionally and mentally challenging. Consider seeking support from counselors, therapists, or support groups specializing in cancer care to help you cope with the diagnosis and potential concerns about the cause.
  • Explore Legal Options: Depending on the circumstances of your exposure to formaldehyde, legal recourse might be an option. Consulting with a lawyer who specializes in personal injury or environmental law can help you understand your rights and options.
  • Take Preventive Measures: If you suspect ongoing exposure to formaldehyde in your environment, take steps to minimize or eliminate it. This might involve using protective gear, modifying your work environment, or seeking alternative living arrangements if possible.

Remember, while there might be associations between certain chemicals like formaldehyde and cancer, establishing a direct cause can be complex and requires thorough investigation and expert opinions. It is crucial to work closely with healthcare and legal professionals, and experts in relevant fields, to address your concerns and explore appropriate actions.

Get a Free Chemical Injury Consultation

If you have been diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer or myeloid leukemia and believe that formaldehyde is a factor, contact Kherkher Garcia right away. Our team of experienced chemical injury attorneys understand the complexities of chemical-related health issues. We are here to offer you legal guidance and support. Whether you suspect workplace exposure, environmental factors, or other sources, we can help you understand and protect your legal rights.

Get a free chemical injury consultation with one of our attorneys by calling us at 713-333-1030, or by completing our online contact form.



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Kevin Haynes

Kevin Haynes

Firm Partner and Trial Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Injury Trial Lawyer and Firm Partner Kevin Haynes. Kevin has been a practicing injury lawyer for more than 15 years. He has won $150 Million+ in Settlements and Verdicts for his clients. Kevin is powerful and effective in the courtroom and the trial lawyer you want on your side if you or a loved one have been seriously injured at work or on the road.

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