Objectives: Cancer risk has been estimated for asbestos production workers or other heavily exposed asbestos workers in numerous studies. The bulk of the asbestos epidemic results come, however, from past intermittent exposures during asbestos product use. This study concentrated on estimating the risk of cancer in such a population.
Methods: Altogether 23285 men and 930 women invited to a nationwide screening campaign for benign asbestos-related diseases in 1990-1992 were followed for cancer through the Finnish Cancer Register up to 1998. Standardized incidence ratios (SIR) were calculated in comparison with the total Finnish population.
Results: Altogether 1392 cases of cancer were found among the men. The risk was slightly, but significantly elevated for lung cancer [SIR 1.14, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.01-1.26), mesothelioma (SIR 2.77, 95% CI 1.66-4.31), and prostate cancer (SIR 1.21, 95% CI 1.09-1.34). The risk of lung cancer was slightly higher among the invited nonparticipants (SIR 1.48, 95% CI 1.20-1.79) than among the participants (SIR 1.02, 95% CI 0.88-1.17). About 98% of the lung cancers occurred in current or ex-smokers.
Conclusions: In a population of long-term construction workers, the risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma was increased, but considerably lower than among insulators, asbestos sprayers, or patients with asbestosis. As it was not possible to follow most of the invited nonparticipants in the original screening study, selection bias by smoking or other life-style factors possibly correlated to the individual's decision to participate in the health screening cannot be excluded.