International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) - Summaries & Evaluations


VOL.: 19 (1979) (p. 157)

CAS No.: 74-85-1
Chem. Abstr. Name: Ethene

Low-density and high-density polyethylenes
CAS No.: 9002-88-4
Chem. Abstr. Name: Ethene homopolymer

5. Summary of Data Reported and Evaluation

5.1 Experimental data

No data on the carcinogenicity or mutagenicity of ethylene were available to the Working Group.

Polyethylene was tested by subcutaneous implantation in rats and mice, by intraperitoneal implantation in rats, using discs, films, rods, fragments and powder, and by intrauterine insertion in rats of polyethylene devices. Subcutaneous implantation of all forms except the powder resulted in local sarcomas, the incidences of which varied with the size and form of the implants. The results obtained following intrauterine implantation of polyethylene devices could not be used to evaluate the carcinogenicity of polyethylene.

5.2 Human data

The massive production of ethylene and polyethylene and the general use of the polymer over the past several decades indicate that exposure of workers and the general population is common. In addition, medical use (e.g., for intrauterine contraceptive devices) has been extensive. No epidemiological studies relating to the carcinogenicity of these compounds were available to the Working Group.

5.3 Evaluation

No information was available to the Working Group for evaluating the possible carcinogenic effects of ethylene in humans; and the available data on polyethylene do not permit an evaluation of its potential carcinogenicity. Experimental carcinogenicity studies on the monomer are recommended.

The results of animal implantation experiments using polyethylene and the limitations of the data from humans indicate the need for further epidemiological studies of persons receiving implants or insertions of devices made from the polymer.

Subsequent evaluations: Suppl. 7 (1987) (Ethylene, p. 63: Group 3) (Polyethylene, p. 70: Group 3); Vol. 60 (1994) (Ethylene) For definition of Groups, see Preamble Evaluation.

Synonyms for Ethylene

Synonyms for Polyethylene

Last updated: 30 March 1998

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       Toxicological Abbreviations