Exposure-response analysis and risk assessment for lung cancer in relationship to silica exposure: a 44-year cohort study of 34,018 workers

Am J Epidemiol. 2013 Nov 1;178(9):1424-33. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwt139. Epub 2013 Sep 15.


Crystalline silica has been classified as a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (Lyon, France); however, few previous studies have provided quantitative data on silica exposure, silicosis, and/or smoking. We investigated a cohort in China (in 1960-2003) of 34,018 workers without exposure to carcinogenic confounders. Cumulative silica exposure was estimated by linking a job-exposure matrix to work history. Cox proportional hazards model was used to conduct exposure-response analysis and risk assessment. During a mean 34.5-year follow-up, 546 lung cancer deaths were identified. Categorical analyses by quartiles of cumulative silica exposure (using a 25-year lag) yielded hazard ratios of 1.26, 1.54, 1.68, and 1.70, respectively, compared with the unexposed group. Monotonic exposure-response trends were observed among nonsilicotics (P for trend < 0.001). Analyses using splines showed similar trends. The joint effect of silica and smoking was more than additive and close to multiplicative. For workers exposed from ages 20 to 65 years at 0.1 mg/m(3) of silica exposure, the estimated excess lifetime risk (through age 75 years) was 0.51%. These findings confirm silica as a human carcinogen and suggest that current exposure limits in many countries might be insufficient to protect workers from lung cancer. They also indicate that smoking cessation could help reduce lung cancer risk for silica-exposed individuals.

Keywords: cohort; exposure-response analysis; lung cancer; risk assessment; silica; silicosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • China / epidemiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Dust
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Lung Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Lung Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mining
  • Occupational Diseases
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Silicon Dioxide / adverse effects*
  • Silicosis / epidemiology*
  • Smoking / epidemiology*


  • Dust
  • Silicon Dioxide