Diesel Fuels Lung Cancer Risk

Lung cancer risk increases after prolonged exposure to diesel fumes

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Those who live near highways, truck drivers and others who breathe in diesel fumes may be more likely to get lung cancer. A large study of trucking industry workers has recently found that cumulative exposure to diesel exhaust increases the likelihood of dying from lung cancer.

Based on the research and other related investigations, the World Health Organization changed its classification of diesel exhaust from a "probable" to a "known" carcinogen.

"Avoid breathing exhaust."

For years, the American Cancer Society has warned about the toxic effects of breathing in the gases and soot from diesel exhaust.

Truck drivers, tollbooth workers, miners, forklift drivers, railroad and dock workers, and garage workers and mechanics are among those who have high exposure to diesel exhaust.

Those who live near or regularly drive along highways with heavy truck and bus traffic may also be inhaling unhealthy amounts of toxins.

Mary Davis, PhD, an associate professor of urban and environmental policy and planning at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., coauthored the study, which analyzed pre-existing data on 31,135 male workers who were employed in the US trucking industry in 1985.

The scientists examined the number of deaths among these workers through the year 2000. Out of 4,306, there were 779 lung cancer cases, which equates to 18 percent of the individuals. (Note that not all these exposures were due to diesel exhaust exposure.)

In determining how many lung cancer deaths were linked to diesel exhaust, investigators adjusted their calculations to account for cancers possibly caused by smoking.

In the group of workers studied, a 15 percent to 40 percent increased lung cancer risk was noted in drivers and dockworkers with regular exposure to diesel exhaust. The risk of getting lung cancer was about double for those who worked 20 years in these jobs, after adjusting for tobacco smoking.

To develop a statistical model that would estimate exposure to diesel exhaust, Davis and her team sampled air quality in truck terminals, docks, offices and truck cabs.

Gail Bambrick, reporting in October in TuftsNow, the online newsletter for Tufts University, wrote that the research was so conclusive that it helped the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to reclassify diesel exhaust as a "known" carcinogen instead of a “probable" carcinogen.

The results supported a large body of literature showing the relationship between diesel exhaust exposure and lung cancer risk in occupationally exposed workers.

The study was published in the September issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, the monthly journal of the monthly journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 26, 2012
Last Updated:
October 30, 2012