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Occupational exposure to silica and lung cancer risk in the Netherlands
  1. Liesbeth Preller1,
  2. Linda M C van den Bosch1,
  3. Piet A van den Brandt2,
  4. T Kauppinen3,
  5. Alexandra Goldbohm1
  1. 1TNO Quality of Life, Zeist/Leiden, The Netherlands
  2. 2Department of Epidemiology, GROW School for Oncology and Developmental Biology, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands
  3. 3Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Helsinki, Finland
  1. Correspondence to Sandra Goldbohm, TNO Quality of Life/Prevention and Health, PO Box 2215, 2301 CE Leiden, The Netherlands; sandra.bausch{at}


Objectives The lung cancer carcinogenicity of crystalline silica dust remains the subject of discussion. Epidemiological evidence is based on occupational cohort studies and population-based case–control studies. The aim of this study was to assess associations between male lung cancer risk and silica exposure in a population-based cohort study.

Methods The study was conducted among men aged 55–69 years (n=58 279) from the Netherlands Cohort Study, which included self-reported, life-time job histories. Job titles were linked to the occupational groups of the external Finnish Job Exposure Matrix (FINJEM), including probability and level of silica exposure, each for specific time periods. 1667 incident lung cancer cases with known silica exposure status (210 exposed) were available after 11.3 years of follow-up. Risks were estimated based on a case–cohort design, and using Cox proportional hazards models.

Results Adjusted for smoking and other confounders, elevated risks were observed for exposure duration (RR 1.65, 95% CI 1.14 to 2.41 for 26–51 years vs no exposure) and cumulative exposure (RR 1.47, 95% CI 0.93 to 2.33 for ≥3 vs <3 mg/m3.year). Associations with average exposure levels were weaker. Associations were stronger for occupations with an exposure probability of ≥90%. Adjustment for asbestos exposure slightly increased the risk.

Conclusions Results from this prospective population-based cohort study corroborate the classification of crystalline silica as a lung carcinogen. Associations could not be explained by smoking or by asbestos exposure.

  • lung cancer
  • silica exposure
  • cohort study

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  • Funding The Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment provided funding for this study. The NLCS was established with the financial support of the Dutch Cancer Society, Amsterdam.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of both the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research TNO (Zeist, The Netherlands) and Maastricht University (Maastricht, The Netherlands).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed