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Occupational exposure to eight organic dusts and respiratory cancer among Finns
  1. A Laakkonen1,
  2. P Kyyrönen2,
  3. T Kauppinen1,
  4. E I Pukkala2
  1. 1Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Helsinki, Finland
  2. 2Finnish Cancer Registry, Institute for Statistical and Epidemiological Cancer Research, Helsinki, Finland
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr A Laakkonen
 Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Topeliuksenkatu 41 aA, FIN-00250 Helsinki, Finland; aarne.laakkonen{at}


Background: There is inconclusive evidence concerning cancer risks of organic dusts.

Aim: The carcinogenic exposures are mainly inhalatory and the authors therefore studied associations between occupational exposure to eight different organic dusts and respiratory cancers in Finland.

Methods: The authors followed up a cohort of all economically active Finns born between 1906 and 1945 for 30 million person-years during 1971–95. Incident cases of nasal, laryngeal, and lung cancer and mesotheliomas were identified through a record linkage with the Finnish Cancer Registry. Occupations from the population census in 1970 were converted to exposures to eight organic dusts with a job-exposure matrix (FINJEM). Cumulative exposure (CE) was calculated as a product of prevalence, level, and estimated duration of exposure. Standardised incidence ratios (SIR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) adjusted for age, period, and social class were calculated for each organic dust using the economically active population as the reference.

Results: A total of 20 426 incident cases of respiratory cancer were observed. Slightly increased risk was observed among men exposed to wood dust for nasal cancer (SIR 1.42, 95% CI 0.79 to 2.44). For laryngeal cancer, men exposed to plant dust (mainly grain millers) had a raised SIR in the high exposure class (SIR 3.55, 95% CI 1.30 to 7.72). Men exposed to wood dust had a raised SIR for lung cancer, but only in the low exposure class (SIR 1.11, 95% CI 1.04 to 1.18). Women exposed to wood dust showed an increased SIR for mesotheliomas in the low exposure class (SIR 4.57, 95% CI 1.25 to 11.7) and some excess in the medium exposure category.

Conclusions: Exposure to organic dusts is unlikely to be a major risk factor of respiratory cancer. Even exposure to wood dust which is a major exposure in Finland seems to have minor effect for nasal cancer. The authors found suggestive evidence that exposure to grain dust may increase the risk of laryngeal cancer, and some support to the hypothesis that exposure to textile dust, and to plant and animal dust (agricultural dusts) may decrease the risk of lung cancer.

  • CE, cumulative exposure
  • FCR, Finnish Cancer Registry
  • ILO, International Labour Organization
  • ISCO, International Standard Classification of Occupations
  • PID, personal identifier
  • SES, socioeconomic status
  • SIR, standardised incidence ratio
  • cancer
  • organic dust
  • occupational exposure
  • job-exposure matrix

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  • Published Online First 6 April 2006

  • Competing interests: none declared.

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