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Am J Ind Med. 2001 Dec;40(6):674-82.

Lung cancer risk, silica exposure, and silicosis in Chinese mines and pottery factories: the modifying role of other workplace lung carcinogens.

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Istituto di Medicina del Lavoro, University of Cagliari, Italy.



Aims of our study were to explore whether and to what extent exposure to other lung carcinogens, or staging and clinical features of silicosis modify or confound the association between silica and lung cancer.


We used data from a nested case-control study, conducted in the late 1980s in 29 Chinese mines and potteries (10 tungsten mines, 6 copper and iron mines, 4 tin mines, 8 pottery factories, and 1 clay mine), that included 316 lung cancer cases and 1,356 controls, matched by decade of birth and facility type. The previous analysis of these data presented results by type of mine or factory.


In our study, pooling all 29 Chinese work sites, lung cancer risk showed a modest association with silica exposure. Risk did not vary after excluding subjects with silicosis or adjusting the risk estimates by radiological staging of silicosis. Strong correlation among exposures prevented a detailed evaluation of the role of individual exposures. However, lung cancer risk was for the most part absent when concomitant exposure to other workplace lung carcinogens, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), nickel or radon-daughters, was considered. The cross classification of lung cancer risk by categories of exposure to respirable silica and total respirable dust did not show an independent effect of total respirable dust. Silicosis showed a modest association with lung cancer, which did not vary by severity of radiological staging, or by radiological evidence of disease progression, or by level of silica exposure. However, among silicotic subjects, lung cancer risk was significantly elevated only when exposure to cadmium and PAH had occurred.


Our results suggest that, among silica-exposed Chinese workers, numerous occupational and non-occupational risk factors interact in a complex fashion to modify lung cancer risk. Future epidemiological studies on silica and lung cancer should incorporate detailed information on exposure to other workplace lung carcinogens, total respirable dust, and on surface size and age of silica particles to understand whether and to what extent they affect the carcinogenic potential of silica.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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