Occupational exposure to diesel engine emissions and risk of lung cancer: evidence from two case-control studies in Montreal, Canada

Occup Environ Med. 2012 Nov;69(11):787-92. doi: 10.1136/oemed-2012-100964. Epub 2012 Jul 26.


Objective: To examine the risk of lung cancer among men associated with exposure to diesel engine emissions incurred in a wide range of occupations and industries.

Methodology: 2 population-based lung cancer case-control studies were conducted in Montreal. Study I (1979-1986) comprised 857 cases and 533 population controls; study II (1996-2001) comprised 736 cases and 894 population controls. A detailed job history was obtained, from which we inferred lifetime occupational exposure to 294 agents, including diesel engine emissions. ORs were estimated for each study and in the pooled data set, adjusting for socio-demographic factors, smoking history and selected occupational carcinogens. While it proved impossible to retrospectively estimate absolute exposure concentrations, there were estimates and analyses by relative measures of cumulative exposure.

Results: Increased risks of lung cancer were found in both studies. The pooled analysis showed an OR of lung cancer associated with substantial exposure to diesel exhaust of 1.80 (95% CI 1.3 to 2.6). The risk associated with substantial exposure was higher for squamous cell carcinomas (OR 2.09; 95% CI 1.3 to 3.2) than other histological types. Joint effects between diesel exhaust exposure and tobacco smoking are compatible with a multiplicative synergistic effect.

Discussion: Our findings provide further evidence supporting a causal link between diesel engine emissions and risk of lung cancer. The risk is stronger for the development of squamous cell carcinomas than for small cell tumours or adenocarcinomas.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / etiology
  • Adenocarcinoma of Lung
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / adverse effects*
  • Canada
  • Carcinoma / etiology*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / etiology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology*
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Risk Factors
  • Small Cell Lung Carcinoma / etiology
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Vehicle Emissions*


  • Air Pollutants, Occupational
  • Vehicle Emissions