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Lung cancer mortality and exposure to synthetic metalworking fluid and biocides: controlling for the healthy worker survivor effect
  1. Erika Garcia1,
  2. Sally Picciotto1,
  3. Andreas M Neophytou1,
  4. Patrick T Bradshaw2,
  5. John R Balmes1,3,
  6. Ellen A Eisen1
  1. 1Environmental Health Sciences Division, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, California, USA
  2. 2Epidemiology Division, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, California, USA
  3. 3Department of Medicine, Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ellen A Eisen, Environmental Health Sciences Division, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA; eeisen{at}


Objectives Synthetic metalworking fluids (MWFs), widely used to cool and lubricate industrial machining and grinding operations, have been linked with increased risk of several cancers. Estimates of their relation with lung cancer, however, are inconsistent. Controlling for the healthy worker survivor effect, we examined the relations between lung cancer mortality and exposure to synthetic MWF, as well as to biocides added to water-based fluids to control microbial growth, in a cohort of autoworkers. Biocides served as a marker for endotoxin, which has reported antitumour effects, and were hypothesised to be the reason prior studies found reduced lung cancer risk associated with exposure to synthetic fluids.

Methods Using the parametric g-formula, we estimated risk ratios (RRs) comparing cumulative lung cancer mortality under no intervention with what would have occurred under hypothetical interventions reducing exposure to zero (ie, a ban) separately for two exposures: synthetic fluids and biocides. We also specified an intervention on synthetic MWF and biocides simultaneously to estimate joint effects.

Results Under a synthetic MWF ban, we observed decreased lung cancer mortality risk at age 86, RR=0.96 (0.91–1.01), but when we also intervened to ban biocides, the RR increased to 1.03 (0.95–1.11). A biocide-only ban increased lung cancer mortality (RR=1.07 (1.00–1.16)), with slightly larger RR in younger ages.

Conclusions Findings suggest a modest positive association for synthetic MWF with lung cancer mortality, contrary to the negative associations reported in earlier studies. Biocide exposure, however, was inversely associated with risk of lung cancer mortality.

  • cancer
  • epidemiology
  • longitudinal studies
  • cutting fluids

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  • Contributors EG and EAE conceived and designed the study. EG conducted data analyses, interpreted results, and wrote and revised the manuscript. SP, AMN and PTB advised on analytical approach and reviewed and revised the manuscript. JRB reviewed and revised the manuscript. EAE contributed to the design of the analysis, interpretation of results, and reviewed and revised the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

  • Funding This research was supported by a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Targeted Research Training grant T42OH008429 and NIOSH grant R01OH010028.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Ethics approval Office for the Protection of Human Subjects at the University of California, Berkeley.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.