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Am J Epidemiol. 2014 Feb 1;179(3):299-302. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwt274. Epub 2013 Dec 18.

Invited commentary: is it time to retire the "pack-years" variable? Maybe not!


Cumulative exposure--the product of intensity and duration for a constant exposure rate or its integral over time if variable--has been widely used in epidemiologic analyses of extended exposures, for example, the "pack-years" variable for tobacco smoking. Although the effects of intensity and duration are known to differ for exposures like smoking and ionizing radiation and simple cumulative exposure does not explicitly allow for modification by other time-related variables, such as age at exposure or time since exposure, the cumulative exposure variable has the merit of simplicity and has been shown to be one of the best predictors for many exposure-response relationships. This commentary discusses recent refinements of the pack-years variable, as discussed in this issue of the Journal by Vlaanderen et al. (Am J Epidemiol. 2014;179(3):290-298), in the broader context of general exposure-time-response relationships.


cancer; cumulative exposure; exposure-time-response relationships; models of carcinogenesis; radiation; smoking; time-related modifiers; tobacco

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