Background: Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in North America. Exposure to cotton dust has previously been reported to decrease the risk of lung cancer.
Methods: We used data from two large case-control studies conducted in Montreal from 1979-1986 (Study 1) and 1996-2002 (Study 2) respectively, to examine the association between occupational exposure to cotton dust and risk of lung cancer. Cases were diagnosed with incident histologically-confirmed lung cancer (857 in Study 1, 1203 in Study 2). Population controls were randomly selected from electoral lists and frequency-matched to cases by age and sex (533 in Study 1, 1513 in Study 2). Interviews for the two studies used a virtually identical questionnaire to obtain lifetime occupational and smoking history, and several lifestyle covariates. Each participant's lifetime occupational history was reviewed by experts to assess exposure to a number of occupational agents, including cotton dust. Odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were estimated by unconditional logistic regression, adjusting for potential confounders.
Results: The lifetime prevalence of exposure to cotton dust was approximately 10%-15% in both studies combined, with some variation by study and by sex. Overall there was no decreased risk of lung cancer among subjects exposed to cotton dust. Rather, among all subjects there was a suggestion of slightly increased risk associated with any lifetime exposure to cotton dust (OR = 1.2, 95% CI: 1.0-1.5). This risk appeared to be concentrated among cases of adenocarcinoma (OR = 1.6, 95% CI: 1.2-2.2), and among moderate and heavy smokers (OR = 1.3, 95% CI: 1.0-1.7). There was no association when restricting to cases of either squamous cell or small cell cancer, or among never smokers and light smokers. An analogous examination of subjects exposed to wool dust revealed neither increased nor decreased risks of lung cancer.
Conclusions: There was no evidence that cotton dust exposure decreased risks of lung cancer.