Background: Exposure to occupational carcinogens is an important preventable cause of lung cancer. Most of the previous studies were in highly exposed industrial cohorts. Our aim was to quantify lung cancer burden attributable to occupational carcinogens in a general population.
Methods: We applied a new job-exposure matrix (JEM) to translate lifetime work histories, collected by personal interview and coded into standard job titles, into never, low and high exposure levels for six known/suspected occupational lung carcinogens in the Environment and Genetics in Lung cancer Etiology (EAGLE) population-based case-control study, conducted in Lombardy region, Italy, in 2002-05. Odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were calculated in men (1537 cases and 1617 controls), by logistic regression adjusted for potential confounders, including smoking and co-exposure to JEM carcinogens. The population attributable fraction (PAF) was estimated as impact measure.
Results: Men showed an increased lung cancer risk even at low exposure to asbestos (OR: 1.76; 95% CI: 1.42-2.18), crystalline silica (OR: 1.31; 95% CI: 1.00-1.71) and nickel-chromium (OR: 1.18; 95% CI: 0.90-1.53); risk increased with exposure level. For polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, an increased risk (OR: 1.64; 95% CI: 0.99-2.70) was found only for high exposures. The PAFs for any exposure to asbestos, silica and nickel-chromium were 18.1, 5.7 and 7.0%, respectively, equivalent to an overall PAF of 22.5% (95% CI: 14.1-30.0). This corresponds to about 1016 (95% CI: 637-1355) male lung cancer cases/year in Lombardy.
Conclusions: These findings support the substantial role of selected occupational carcinogens on lung cancer burden, even at low exposures, in a general population.