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According to the results of a study conducted in Europe, occupational exposure to crystalline silica dust increased the risk of developing lung cancer. These results were published in the journal Epidemiology.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death worldwide. Exposure to tobacco smoke is the most common cause of lung cancer, but other exposures may increase risk as well.

Some studies have suggested that occupational exposure to crystalline silica is carcinogenic (cancer-causing). A variety of occupations may involve exposure to silica, including mining and quarrying, sandblasting, and construction.

To explore the link between occupational exposure to crystalline silica and risk of lung cancer, researchers in Europe conducted a study among roughly 6,000 individuals, half of whom had lung cancer and half of whom did not.

Information about job history was collected from all study participants. For each job held, the researchers collected information about the probability, intensity, and duration of silica exposure.

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  • 15% of the lung cancer patients and 10% of the comparison subjects had a history of occupational exposure to crystalline silica.
  • After accounting for factors such as smoking and other occupational exposures, occupational exposure to crystalline silica was linked with a 37% increase in risk of lung cancer.
  • Risk of lung cancer was doubled among those with the highest total level of exposure to crystalline silica.
  • Crystalline silica increased the risk of lung cancer in both smokers and non-smokers.
  • The researchers estimated that in this population, occupational exposure to crystalline silica may account for 5% of lung cancers in men and 1% of lung cancers in women.

The researchers conclude, “Our results support the hypothesis that silica is an important risk factor for lung cancer.”

Reference: Cassidy A, Mannetje A, van Tongeren M et al. Occupational Exposure to Crystalline Silica and Risk of Lung Cancer: A Multicenter Case-control Study in Europe. Epidemiology. 2007;18:36-43.

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