Although hair dyes have been shown to be highly mutagenic the literature on possible human cancer risk is confused. A variety of studies using different methods in different countries have provided a range of positive and negative findings. In the present study the observed and expected mortality among a sample of hairdressers identified in the 1961 census was examined and followed until 1978; attention was focused on five malignancies reported to have increased in male hairdressers in the other studies. The overall mortality and number of deaths from all neoplasms were lower than the 'expected' figures. No appreciable or significant excess was found for cancer of the oesophagus, larynx, lung, and bladder, or for leukaemia. The present report, based on the follow-up of nearly 2000 hairdressers for more than 15 years, provides no support for other work which has suggested that male hairdressers or barbers are at risk of certain cancers. These results provide only a limited probe into the influence of hair dyes; another part of the study involves follow-up of women hairdressers from the 1971 census, though it will be a number of years before enough deaths have accumulated to warrant analysis.
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