Elevated lung cancer in younger adults and low concentrations of arsenic in water

Am J Epidemiol. 2014 Dec 1;180(11):1082-7. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwu238. Epub 2014 Nov 4.


Arsenic concentrations greater than 100 µg/L in drinking water are a known cause of cancer, but the risks associated with lower concentrations are less well understood. The unusual geology and good information on past exposure found in northern Chile are key advantages for investigating the potential long-term effects of arsenic. We performed a case-control study of lung cancer from 2007 to 2010 in areas of northern Chile that had a wide range of arsenic concentrations in drinking water. Previously, we reported evidence of elevated cancer risks at arsenic concentrations greater than 100 µg/L. In the present study, we restricted analyses to the 92 cases and 288 population-based controls who were exposed to concentrations less than 100 µg/L. After adjustment for age, sex, and smoking behavior, these exposures from 40 or more years ago resulted in odds ratios for lung cancer of 1.00, 1.43 (90% confidence interval: 0.82, 2.52), and 2.01 (90% confidence interval: 1.14, 3.52) for increasing tertiles of arsenic exposure, respectively (P for trend = 0.02). Mean arsenic water concentrations in these tertiles were 6.5, 23.0, and 58.6 µg/L. For subjects younger than 65 years of age, the corresponding odds ratios were 1.00, 1.62 (90% confidence interval: 0.67, 3.90), and 3.41 (90% confidence interval: 1.51, 7.70). Adjustments for occupation, fruit and vegetable intake, and socioeconomic status had little impact on the results. These findings provide new evidence that arsenic water concentrations less than 100 µg/L are associated with higher risks of lung cancer.

Keywords: arsenic; case-control; drinking water; low exposure; lung cancer; northern Chile.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Arsenic / administration & dosage
  • Arsenic / adverse effects*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Chile / epidemiology
  • Drinking Water / chemistry
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Lung Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / administration & dosage
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / adverse effects*


  • Drinking Water
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Arsenic