Diesel engine exhaust and lung cancer: an unproven association

Environ Health Perspect. 1995 Sep;103(9):812-8. doi: 10.1289/ehp.95103812.


The risk of lung cancer associated with diesel exhaust has been calculated from 14 case-control or cohort studies. We evaluated the findings from these studies to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to implicate diesel exhaust as a human lung carcinogen. Four studies found increased risks associated with long-term exposure, although two of the four studies were based on the same cohort of railroad workers. Six studies were inconclusive due to missing information on smoking habits, internal inconsistencies, or inadequate characterization of diesel exposure. Four studies found no statistically significant associations. It can be concluded that short-term exposure to diesel engine exhaust (< 20 years) does not have a causative role in human lung cancer. There is statistical but not causal evidence that long-term exposure to diesel exhaust (> 20 years) increases the risk of lung cancer for locomotive engineers, brakemen, and diesel engine mechanics. There is inconsistent evidence on the effects of long-term exposure to diesel exhaust in the trucking industry. There is no evidence for a joint effect of diesel exhaust and cigarette smoking on lung cancer risk. Using common criteria for determining causal associations, the epidemiologic evidence is insufficient to establish diesel engine exhaust as a human lung carcinogen.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cohort Studies
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Lung Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Occupational Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology
  • Rats
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors
  • Vehicle Emissions / adverse effects*


  • Vehicle Emissions