Despite 200 years of efforts to regulate safety in this occupation, chimney sweeps have increased mortality from cancer, ischaemic heart disease, and respiratory disease. Mortality and incidence of cancer were examined in a cohort of 5542 Swedish chimney sweeps employed through their national trade union at any time between 1918 and 1980. Previous studies of this cohort found increased risks of ischaemic heart disease, respiratory disease, accidental deaths, and various neoplasms. By increasing follow up, we sought to increase the power of the study and examine disease time trends. Mortality analysis was extended 7.5 years to cover the period 1951-90; cancer incidence analysis was extended six years to cover the period 1958-87. New findings include increased incidence and mortality of prostate cancer (SMR 169, 95% CI 106-256, 22 observed) and increased incidence of total haematolymphatic cancers (SIR 151, 95% CI 106-209, 36 observed). When only the most recent follow up period was analysed, previously observed risks persisted for total lung cancer (SIR 178, 95% CI 99-293), oat cell lung cancer (SIR 240, 95% CI 103-472), bladder cancer (SIR 247, 95% CI 131-422), and oesophageal cancer (Obs/Exp = 2/1.1). Mortality from ischaemic heart disease (SMR 98, 95% CI 76-123) and respiratory disease (SMR 111, 95% CI 56-199) declined during recent follow up, although significant excess mortality remained during analysis of the entire study period (ischaemic heart disease SMR 128, 95% CI 112-145; respiratory disease SMR 159, 95% CI 115-213). In analyses of the entire study period, risks of ischaemic heart disease and lung, bladder, and oesophageal cancer were adjusted for smoking; oesophageal cancer was also adjusted for use of alcohol. All risks remained significantly raised. Exposure-response analyses showed significant positive associations between duration of employment and risks for mortality from lung, oesophageal, and total cancer. Chimney sweeps remain at increased risk for cancers of the lung, oesophagus, and bladder. Our study supports a casual role for exposure to chimney soot, which contains carcinogens including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Extended follow up of this cohort now shows increased risks of prostate and haematolymphatic cancers.
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