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Ann Occup Hyg. 2006 Jan;50(1):29-38. Epub 2005 Aug 26.

Estimating the number of asbestos-related lung cancer deaths in Great Britain from 1980 to 2000.

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Epidemiology and Medical Statistics Unit, Health and Safety Executive, Magdalen House, Trinity Road, Bootle, Merseyside L20 3QZ, UK.



Inhalation of asbestos fibres is known to cause two main kinds of cancer-mesothelioma and lung cancer. While the vast majority of mesothelioma cases are generally accepted as being caused by asbestos, the proportion of asbestos-related lung cancers is less clear and cannot be determined directly because cases are not clinically distinguishable from those due to other causes. The aim of this study was to estimate the number of asbestos-related lung cancers among males by modelling their relative lung cancer mortality among occupations within Great Britain in terms of smoking habits, mesothelioma mortality (as an index of asbestos exposure) and occupation type (as a proxy for socio-economic factors).


Proportional mortality ratios for lung cancer and mesothelioma for the 20-year period from 1980 to 2000 (excluding 1981) were calculated for occupational groups. Smoking indicators were developed from three General Household Surveys carried out during the 1980s and 1990s. Poisson regression models were used to estimate the number of asbestos-related lung cancers by estimating the number of lung cancer deaths in each occupation assuming no asbestos exposure and subtracting this from the actual predicted number of lung cancer deaths.


The effect of asbestos exposure in predicting lung cancer mortality was weak in comparison to smoking habits and occupation type. The proportion of current smokers in occupational groups and average age at which they started smoking were particularly important factors. Our estimate of the number of asbestos-related lung cancers was between two-thirds and one death for every mesothelioma death: equivalent to between 11 500 and 16 500 deaths during the time period studied.


Asbestos-related lung cancer is likely to have accounted for 2-3% of all lung cancer deaths among males in Great Britain over the last two decades of the 20th century. Asbestos-related lung cancers are likely to remain an important component of the total number of lung cancer deaths in the future as part of the legacy of past asbestos exposures in occupational settings.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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