Methyl Isocyanate and Carcinogenesis: Bridgeable Gaps in Scientific Knowledge

  • Senthilkumar, Chinnu Sugavanam (Clinical Cytogenetics Laboratory, Department of Research, Jawaharlal Nehru Cancer Hospital & Research Centre) ;
  • Sah, Nand Kishore (Department of Botany, T. N. B College, Bhagalpur University) ;
  • Ganesh, Narayanan (Clinical Cytogenetics Laboratory, Department of Research, Jawaharlal Nehru Cancer Hospital & Research Centre)
  • Published : 2012.06.30


Methyl isocyanate may have a role in cancer etiology, although the link is unclear. There is evidence in the literature that it can induce cancer in animals but the carcinogenic potency is weak. Pheochromocytoma of adrenal medulla and acinar cell tumors of pancreas have been observed in methyl isocyanate exposed animals. Conversely, emerging data from population-based epidemiological studies are contradictory since there is no evidence of such cancers in methyl isocyanate exposed humans. Recently, we reported a high prevalence of breast and lung cancers in such a population in Bhopal. In vitro findings appearing in the latest scientific literature suggest that genomic instability is caused by methyl isocyanate analogs in lung, colon, kidney, ovary epithelial cells, and that hepatocytes may undergo oncogenic transformation, have obvious implications. The conflicting information prompted us to present this update over the last three decades on methyl isocyanate-induced cancers after an extensive literature search using PubMed. While the pertinent literature remains limited, with a scarcity of strong laboratory analyses and field-epidemiological investigations, our succinct review of animal and human epidemiological data including in vitro evidences, should hopefully provide more insight to researchers, toxicologists, and public health professionals concerned with validation of the carcinogenicity of methyl isocyanate in humans.


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