Gentry R, Thompson CM, Franzen A, Salley J, Albertini R, Lu K, Greene T. 2020. Using mechanistic information to support evidence integration and synthesis: A case study with inhaled formaldehyde and leukemia. Crit Rev Toxicol 50(10):885–918, DOI: 10.1080/10408444.2020.1854678.
Formaldehyde is one of the most comprehensively studied chemicals, with over 30 years of research focused on understanding the development of cancer following inhalation. The causal conclusions regarding the potential for leukemia are largely based on the epidemiological literature, with little consideration of cancer bioassays, dosimetry studies, and mechanistic research, which challenge the biological plausibility of the disease. Recent reanalyzes of the epidemiological literature have also raised significant questions related to the purported associations between formaldehyde and leukemia. Because of this, considerable scientific debate and uncertainty remain on whether there is a causal association between formaldehyde inhalation exposure and leukemia. Further complexity in evaluating this association is related to the endogenous production of formaldehyde. Multiple modes of action (MOA) have been postulated for the development of leukemia following formaldehyde inhalation that includes unsupported hypotheses of direct or indirect toxicity to the target cell population. Herein, the available evidence relevant to evaluating the postulated MOAs for leukemia following formaldehyde inhalation exposure is organized in the IPCS MOA Framework. The integration of all the available evidence clearly highlights the limited amount of data that support any of the postulated MOAs and demonstrates a significant amount of research supporting the null hypothesis that there is no causal association between formaldehyde inhalation exposure and leukemia. These analyses result in a lack of confidence in any of the postulated MOAs, increasing confidence in the conclusion that there is a lack of biological plausibility for a causal association between formaldehyde inhalation exposure and leukemia.