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Lung Cancer and Radon: Pooled Analysis of Uranium Miners Hired in 1960 or Later

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Despite reductions in exposure for workers and the general public, radon remains a leading cause of lung cancer. Prior studies of underground miners depended heavily upon information on deaths among miners employed in the early years of mine operations when exposures were high and tended to be poorly estimated.


To strengthen the basis for radiation protection, we report on the follow-up of workers employed in the later periods of mine operations for whom we have more accurate exposure information and for whom exposures tended to be accrued at intensities that are more comparable to contemporary settings.


We conducted a pooled analysis of cohort studies of lung cancer mortality among 57,873 male uranium miners in Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, and the United States, who were first employed in 1960 or later (thereby excluding miners employed during the periods of highest exposure and focusing on miners who tend to have higher quality assessments of radon progeny exposures). We derived estimates of excess relative rate per 100 working level months (ERR/100 WLM) for mortality from lung cancer.


The analysis included 1.9 million person-years of observation and 1,217 deaths due to lung cancer. The relative rate of lung cancer increased in a linear fashion with cumulative exposure to radon progeny (ERR/100 WLM=1.33; 95% CI: 0.89, 1.88). The association was modified by attained age, age at exposure, and annual exposure rate; for attained ages <55  y, the ERR/100 WLM was 8.38 (95% CI: 3.30, 18.99) among miners who were exposed at ≥35  years of age and at annual exposure rates of <0.5 working levels. This association decreased with older attained ages, younger ages at exposure, and higher exposure rates.


Estimates of association between radon progeny exposure and lung cancer mortality among relatively contemporary miners are coherent with estimates used to inform current protection guidelines.

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