Background: Tobacco smoking is the main cause for lung cancer worldwide, making it difficult to examine the carcinogenic role of other risk factors because of possible confounding by smoking. Therefore, the present study aimed to investigate the association between lung cancer and occupation independent of smoking.
Methods: A case-control study of lung cancer was carried out between March 1998 and January 2002 in 16 centers from 7 European countries, including 223 never-smoking cases and 1039 controls. Information on lifestyle and occupation was obtained through detailed questionnaires. Job and industries were classified as entailing exposure to known or suspected carcinogens; in addition, expert assessment provided exposure estimates to specific agents.
Results: The odds ratio of lung cancer among women employed for more than 12 years in suspected high-risk occupations was 1.75 (95% confidence interval = 0.63-4.85). A comparable increase in risk was not detected for employment in established high-risk occupations or among men. Increased risk of lung cancer was suggested among individuals exposed to nonferrous metal dust and fumes, crystalline silica, and organic solvents.
Conclusion: Occupations were found to play a limited role in lung cancer risk among never-smokers. Jobs entailing exposure to suspected lung carcinogens should receive priority in future studies among women. Nonferrous metal dust and fumes and silica may exert a carcinogenic effect independently from smoking.