Background: Organic dust is a complex mixture of particulate matter from microbial, plant or animal origin. Occupations with exposure to animal products have been associated with an increased lung cancer risk, while exposure to microbial components (eg, endotoxin) has been associated with a decreased risk. To date there has not been a comprehensive evaluation of the possible association between occupational organic dust exposure (and its specific constituents) and lung cancer risk in the general population.
Methods: The SYNERGY project has pooled information on lifetime working and smoking from 13 300 lung cancer cases and 16 273 controls from 11 case-control studies conducted in Europe and Canada. A newly developed general population job-exposure matrix (assigning no, low or high exposure to organic dust, endotoxin, and contact with animals or fresh animal products) was applied to determine level of exposure. ORs for lung cancer were estimated by logistic regression, adjusted for age, sex, study, cigarette pack-years, time since quitting smoking, and ever employment in occupations with established lung cancer risk.
Results: Occupational organic dust exposure was associated with increased lung cancer risk. The second to the fourth quartile of cumulative exposure showed significant risk estimates ranging from 1.12 to 1.24 in a dose-dependent manner (p<0.001). This association remained in the highest quartile after restricting analyses to subjects without chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma. No association was observed between lung cancer and exposure to endotoxin or contact with animals or animal products.
Conclusion: Occupational exposure to organic dust was associated with increased lung cancer risk in this large pooled case-control study.