Objectives: To determine occupational risk factors for stomach and lung cancer among workers in the German rubber industry.
Methods: A cohort of all male German rubber workers (n = 11,633) who had been employed for at least one year in one of five study plants and who were alive and actively employed or retired on 1 January 1981 was followed for mortality from 1 January 1981 through December 1991. A subcohort of n = 8,933 workers who were hired after 1 January 1950 was defined to focus on working conditions in the more recent rubber industry. Work histories were reconstructed using routinely documented 'cost centre codes' and classified into six work areas as well as subgroups of some work areas. The work areas are: 1. preparation of materials, 2. production of technical rubber goods, 3. production of tyres, 4. storage and dispatch, 5. maintenance, 6. others. Standardized mortality ratios (SMR) and Cox proportional hazards models were calculated for each of the work areas (>1 year of employment in the respective work area). Hazard rate ratios were adjusted for age (time marker) and stratified for year of hire (1950-1959, > or =1960) and years of employment in the respective work area (1-9 years, > or =10 years); years of employment were lagged 10 years to account for latency.
Results: Compared to the national reference population mortality from cancer of stomach (observed 44, SMR = 117; 95% CI: 85-157) and lung (observed 154, SMR = 123; 95% CI: 104-144) was slightly increased. Using internal controls we observed excess deaths from stomach cancer in work area 1 (relative risk [RR] = 2.3; 95% CI: 1.2-4.2) and from lung cancer in work areas 1 (RR = 1.7; 95% CI: 1.2-2.3), 2 (RR = 1.5; 95% CI: 1.1-2.1), and 3 (RR = 1.3; 95% CI: 0.9-1.8). On the basis of cumulative years of employment an exposure response relationship was observed for mortality from both cancer sites among a subcategory of work area 1: weighing and mixing. Increased risks were also seen for lung cancer among workers employed in production of technical rubber goods.
Conclusion: Our results support an association between an excess mortality from stomach and lung cancer and employment in early production stages of rubber manufacturing, especially weighing and mixing. This may point to an aetiologic role of asbestos or carbon black. For stomach cancer additional risk factors, e.g. exposure to dust and talc, deserve further investigation. The results of the present study do not support a causal role of nitrosamines for stomach or lung cancer.