To study the association between occupational exposure to metals including chromium, cadmium, nickel, and arsenic compounds, within a population-based study design, while adjusting for confounding factors.
A population-based lung cancer case–control study in Central/Eastern Europe and UK was conducted in 1998–2003, including 2,853 cases and 3,104 controls. Exposure to 70 occupational agents was assessed by local expert-teams for all subjects. Odds ratios (OR) for exposure to dust and fumes/mist of chromium, nickel, cadmium, arsenic, as well as inorganic pigment dust and inorganic acid mist, were adjusting for smoking, age, center, sex, and exposure to other occupational agents including the metals under study.
Exposure to arsenic (prevalence = 1.4%) was associated with an increased lung cancer risk ((OR) 1.65, 95% confidence interval (95% CI):1.05–2.58). For chromium dust (prevalence = 4.8%, OR: 1.25, 95% CI: 0.95–1.65), a linear upward trend for duration and cumulative exposure was observed. A weak association was observed for exposure to cadmium fumes (prevalence = 1.8%, OR: 1.19, 95% CI: 0.77–1.82), which was strongest for the highest category of cumulative exposure (OR: 2.04, 95% CI: 1.07–3.90). No increased risk was observed for inorganic acid mist, inorganic pigment dust, or nickel, after adjustment for other metals. An independent effect of nickel cannot be excluded, due to its collinearity with chromium exposure.
Occupational exposure to metals is an important risk factor for lung cancer. Although the strongest risk was observed for arsenic, exposure to chromium dust was most important in terms of attributable risk due to its high prevalence.