Cancer in asbestos-exposed occupational cohorts: a meta-analysis

Cancer Causes Control. 1999 Oct;10(5):453-65. doi: 10.1023/a:1008980927434.


Objective: To examine existing asbestos-exposed occupational cohorts and apply a meta-analytic technique to determine the magnitude of association between exposure and lung cancer and to investigate other cancer sites that may be related to such an exposure.

Methods: We summarized the data from 69 asbestos-exposed occupational cohorts reporting on cancer morbidity and mortality. Data were extracted regarding numbers of deaths for each cancer, numbers of mesotheliomas, occupations and latency for respiratory, gastrointestinal, urinary and lymphohematopoietic cancers. For each cancer, we calculated a meta-SMR and examined heterogeneity of results using a chi-square test and by calculating a Z-statistic for each study. To examine the dose-response effect, we divided the studies into tertiles according to the percentage of mesothelioma deaths that served as a proxy estimation of asbestos exposure.

Results: Lung cancer data demonstrated meta-SMRs of 163 and 148 with and without latency, respectively, with significant heterogeneity of results even after stratification according to occupational groups. Stratification of lung cancer studies according to percentage of mesothelioma deaths showed a dose-response effect. Z-scores ranged from -12.21 to + 29.49. Analysis for laryngeal cancer yielded meta-SMRs of 157 and 133 with and without latency, respectively, demonstrating homogeneous results across studies but accompanied by no evidence of a dose-response effect. Data for gastrointestinal cancers showed no evidence of a significant association and no dose-response effect. Kidney cancer demonstrated statistically non-significant meta-SMRs of 120 (95% CI 88-160) and 111 (95% CI 94-131) with and without latency respectively.

Conclusions: This meta-analysis demonstrates a wide variability of the association between occupational asbestos and lung cancer. There was a suggestion of an association between asbestos and laryngeal carcinoma and no clear association with other cancers.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Asbestos / adverse effects*
  • Carcinogens / adverse effects*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Laryngeal Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Laryngeal Neoplasms / etiology
  • Lung Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Lung Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Occupational Exposure
  • Occupational Health*


  • Carcinogens
  • Asbestos