Synergy between asbestos and smoking on lung cancer risks

Epidemiology. 1999 Jul;10(4):405-11. doi: 10.1097/00001648-199907000-00008.


We have examined data from 12 epidemiologic studies for quantitative evidence of biologic synergy between asbestos and smoking on lung cancer risks. Estimates of the effect associated with joint exposure to the two agents exceeded the sum of their separate effects in each study. We explored the variations in the strength of the synergistic effect across the studies using three indices: the ratio of the combined effects to the sum of the separate effects of smoking and asbestos (S), the relative excess risk due to interaction (RERI), and the attributable proportion of risk due to interaction (AP). The weighted average of S across all studies was 1.64 (95% confidence interval = 1.33-2.03). The attributable proportion associated with this average S was estimated as 33%, that suggests that one-third of cancer cases among smokers who were exposed to asbestos can be attributed to the synergistic behavior of the two carcinogens, as distinct from their separate effects and those attributable to other ("background") factors.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Asbestos*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking*


  • Asbestos