Models based on the multistage theory of carcinogenesis predict that the rate of mesothelioma increases monotonically as a function of time since first exposure (TSFE) to asbestos. Predictions of long-term mortality (TSFE >or= 40 years) are, however, still untested, because of the limited follow-up of most epidemiological studies. Some authors have suggested that the increase in mesothelioma rate with TSFE might be attenuated by clearance of asbestos from the lungs. We estimated mortality time trends from pleural and peritoneal cancer in a cohort of 3,443 asbestos-cement workers, followed for more than 50 years. The functional relation between mesothelioma rate and TSFE was evaluated with various regression models. The role of asbestos clearance was explored using the traditional mesothelioma multistage model, generalized to include a term representing elimination over time. We observed 139 deaths from pleural and 56 from peritoneal cancer during the period 1950-2003. The rate of pleural cancer increased during the first 40 years of TSFE and reached a plateau thereafter. In contrast, the rate of peritoneal cancer increased monotonically with TSFE. The model allowing for asbestos elimination fitted the data better than the traditional model for pleural (p = 0.02) but not for peritoneal cancer (p = 0.22). The risk for pleural cancer, rather than showing an indefinite increase, might reach a plateau when a sufficiently long time has elapsed since exposure. The different trends for pleural and peritoneal cancer might be related to clearance of the asbestos from the workers' lungs.
(c) 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.