Lung cancer and diesel exhaust: an updated critical review of the occupational epidemiology literature
A recent review concluded that the evidence from epidemiological studies was indeterminate and that additional studies were required to support the diesel exhaust lung cancer hypothesis. In the present study, the authors examine seven recent studies. Two population-based studies concluded that significant exposure-response (E-R) trends between cumulative diesel exhaust and lung cancer were unlikely to be entirely explained by bias or confounding. Those studies have quality data on life-style risk factors, but do not allow definitive conclusions because of inconsistent E-R trends, qualitative exposure estimates and exposure misclassification (insufficient latency based on job title), and selection bias from low participation rates. Non-definitive results are consistent with the larger body of population studies. An NCI/NIOSH cohort mortality and nested case-control study of non-metal miners have some surrogate-based quantitative diesel exposure estimates (including highest exposure measured as respirable elemental carbon (REC) in the workplace) and smoking histories. The authors concluded that diesel exhaust may cause lung cancer. Nonetheless, the results are non-definitive because the conclusions are based on E-R patterns where high exposures were deleted to achieve significant results, where a posterior adjustments were made to augment results, and where inappropriate adjustments were made for the “negative confounding” effects of smoking even though current smoking was not associated with diesel exposure and therefore could not be a confounder. Three cohort studies of bus drivers and truck drivers are in effect air pollution studies without estimates of diesel exhaust exposure and so are not sufficient for assessing the lung cancer-diesel exhaust hypothesis. Results from all occupational cohort studies with quantitative estimates of exposure have limitations, including weak and inconsistent E-R associations that could be explained by bias, confounding or chance, exposure misclassification, and often-inadequate latency. The authors concluded that the weight of evidence is considered inadequate to confirm the diesel-lung cancer hypothesis.