Computer modeling of population exposure to a carcinogen: the example of asbestos and mesothelioma mortality in France

Comput Biomed Res. 2000 Apr;33(2):97-109. doi: 10.1006/cbmr.1999.1536.


The multistage theory of carcinogenesis allows models to be constructed that provide the individual probability of a diagnosed tumor at a given age as a function of the person's past exposure to carcinogenic agents (exposure level versus age), the time since exposure, and age. When exposure to a carcinogenic agent and its impact in terms of morbidity and mortality are modeled on the scale of the general population, individual exposures must often be estimated. If appropriate data do not already exist, this difficult task necessitates expensive and difficult investigations. We propose here a method that allows this global exposure to be modeled without needing to know the individual exposures. The method is used and illustrated in the context of modeling the asbestos exposure of the French male population and calculating its mortality rate from mesothelioma (a type of cancer for which asbestos is the only carcinogen and for which a risk function based on the multistage theory of carcinogenesis exists). This method assumes that the exposure functions (how exposure levels vary with age) for all individuals are the same, with the exception of one parameter. That is, it utilizes a hypothesis that we called the hypothesis of the Standard Exposure Window (SEW). We used two methods to calculate the probability of death from mesothelioma in a representative sample of the French male population for whom individual histories of asbestos exposure are known: we applied the risk function to all the individuals, and we applied the SEW hypothesis. The number of deaths obtained by the two methods are very close and fit the observed mortality data satisfactorily.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Asbestos / adverse effects*
  • Carcinogens / adverse effects*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Computer Simulation*
  • France / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mesothelioma / etiology*
  • Mesothelioma / mortality*
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Biological
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology
  • Occupational Diseases / mortality
  • Occupational Exposure
  • Risk Factors


  • Carcinogens
  • Asbestos