A possible protective effect of selenium against lung cancer has been indicated in recent studies. Workers in copper smelters are exposed to a combination of airborne selenium and carcinogens. In this study lung tissue concentrations of selenium, antimony, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, lanthanum, and lead from 76 dead copper smelter workers were compared with those of 15 controls from a rural area and 10 controls from an urban area. The mean exposure time for the dead workers was 31.2 years, and the mean retirement time after the end of exposure 7.2 years. Lung cancer appeared in the workers with the lowest selenium lung tissue levels (selenium median value 71 micrograms/kg wet weight), as compared with both the controls (rural group, median value 110; urban group, median value 136) and other causes of death among the workers (median value 158). The quotient between the metals and selenium was used for comparison: a high quotient indicating a low protective effect of selenium and vice versa. The median values of the quotients between antimony, arsenic, cadmium, lanthanum, lead, chromium, and cobalt versus selenium were all numerically higher among the cases of lung cancer, the first five significantly higher (p less than 0.05) in 28 of the 35 comparisons between the lung cancer group and all other groups of smelter workers and controls. The different lung metal concentrations for each person were weighted according to their carcinogenic potency (Crx4 + Asx3 + Cdx2 + Sbx1 + Cox1 + Lax1 + Pbx1) against their corresponding selenium concentrations. From these calculations the protective effect of selenium was even more pronounced.
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