Background: Quantifying the asbestos-related lung cancer burden is difficult in the presence of this disease's multiple causes. We explore two methods to estimate this burden using mesothelioma deaths as a proxy for asbestos exposure.
Methods: From the follow-up of 55 asbestos cohorts, we estimated ratios of (i) absolute number of asbestos-related lung cancers to mesothelioma deaths; (ii) excess lung cancer relative risk (%) to mesothelioma mortality per 1000 non-asbestos-related deaths.
Results: Ratios varied by asbestos type; there were a mean 0.7 (95% confidence interval 0.5, 1.0) asbestos-related lung cancers per mesothelioma death in crocidolite cohorts (n=6 estimates), 6.1 (3.6, 10.5) in chrysotile (n=16), 4.0 (2.8, 5.9) in amosite (n=4) and 1.9 (1.4, 2.6) in mixed asbestos fibre cohorts (n=31). In a population with 2 mesothelioma deaths per 1000 deaths at ages 40-84 years (e.g., US men), the estimated lung cancer population attributable fraction due to mixed asbestos was estimated to be 4.0%.
Conclusion: All types of asbestos fibres kill at least twice as many people through lung cancer than through mesothelioma, except for crocidolite. For chrysotile, widely consumed today, asbestos-related lung cancers cannot be robustly estimated from few mesothelioma deaths and the latter cannot be used to infer no excess risk of lung or other cancers.