Lung cancer and mesothelioma risks in a prospective cohort of workers with asbestos-related lung or pleural diseases

American Journal of Industrial Medicine 2022 June 1 [Link]

Dirk Taeger, Katharina Wichert, Martin Lehnert, Swaantje Casjens, Beate Pesch, Daniel G Weber, Thomas Brüning, Georg Johnen, Thomas Behrens


Background: Asbestos causes mesothelioma and lung cancer. In the European Union, asbestos was banned in 2005, but it is still in use in many other countries. The aim of this study was to estimate the lung cancer and mesothelioma incidence risk of men with benign asbestos-related lung or pleural diseases.

Methods: Between 2008 and 2018, 2439 male participants of a German surveillance program for asbestos workers were included in the cohort. All participants had a recognized occupational asbestos-related disease of the pleura or lung. We estimated the mesothelioma and lung cancer risks by calculating standardized incidence ratios (SIR) with corresponding 95% confidence intervals (95% CI).

Results: We observed 64 incident lung cancer and 40 mesothelioma cases in the cohort. An SIR of 17.60 (95% CI: 12.57-23.96) was estimated for mesothelioma and 1.27 (95% CI: 0.98-1.62) for lung cancer. The presence of pleural plaques was associated with a strongly increased risk (SIR: 13.14; 95% CI: 8.51-19.40) for mesothelioma, but not for lung cancer (SIR: 1.05; 95% CI: 0.76-1.41). The highest lung-cancer risk (SIR: 2.56; 95% CI 1.10-5.04) was revealed for cohort members with less than 40 years since first asbestos exposure. Lung cancer risks by duration of asbestos exposure did not show a consistent time trend, but for time since last exposure a trend for mesothelioma was seen.

Conclusions: Compared to the general population, we demonstrated an association between benign asbestos-related lung or pleural disease and mesothelioma risk in workers with a history of occupational asbestos exposure. Because lung-cancer risk is dominated by smoking habits, a possible effect of asbestos exposure may have been masked. Efforts should be made to ban production and use of asbestos worldwide and to establish safe handling rules of legacy asbestos.