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Update of a prospective study of mortality and cancer incidence in the Australian petroleum industry


Aims: To update the analysis of the cohort mortality and cancer incidence study of employees in the Australian petroleum industry.

Methods: Employees from 1981 to 1996 were traced through the Australian National Death Index and the National Cancer Statistics Clearing House. Cause specific mortality and cancer incidence were compared with those of the Australian population by means of standardised mortality ratios (SMRs) and standardised incidence ratios (SIRs). Associations between increased incidence of specific cancers and employment in the petroleum industry were tested by trends according to period of first employment, duration of employment, latency, and hydrocarbon exposure, adjusting for personal smoking history where appropriate. Total follow up time was 176 598 person-years for males and 10 253 person-years for females.

Results: A total of 692 of the 15 957 male subjects, and 16 of the 1206 female subjects had died by the cut off date, 31 December 1996. In males, the all-cause SMR and the SMRs for all major disease categories were significantly below unity. There was a non-significant increase of the all-cancer SIR (1.04, 95% CI 0.97 to 1.11). There was a significant increase of the incidence of melanoma (SIR 1.54, 95% CI 1.30 to 1.81), bladder cancer (SIR 1.37, 95% CI 1.00 to 1.83), and prostate cancer (SIR 1.19, 95% CI 1.00 to 1.40), and a marginally significant excess of pleural mesothelioma (SIR 1.80, 95% CI 0.90 to 3.22), leukaemia (SIR 1.39, 95%CI 0.91 to 2.02), and multiple myeloma (SIR 1.72, 95% CI 0.96 to 2.84).

Conclusions: Most cases of mesothelioma are probably related to past exposure to asbestos in refineries. The melanoma excess may be the result of early diagnosis. The excess bladder cancer has not been observed previously in this industry and is not readily explained. The divergence between cancer incidence and cancer mortality suggests that the “healthy worker effect” may be related to early reporting of curable cancers, leading to increased likelihood of cure and prolonged mean survival time.

  • cancer incidence
  • mortality
  • occupation
  • petroleum
  • CI, confidence interval
  • Exp, expected
  • NCSCH, National Cancer Statistics Clearing House
  • NDI, National Death Index
  • Obs, observed
  • RIR, relative incidence ratio
  • SIR, standardised cancer incidence ratio
  • SMR, standardised mortality ratio

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