Original article

Scand J Work Environ Health 2007;33(2):140-147    pdf

doi:10.5271/sjweh.1117

Operating room nursing and lung cancer risk in a cohort of female registered nurses

by Gates MA, Feskanich D, Speizer FE, Hankinson SE

Objectives Smoke generated during laser surgery and electrocautery contains respiratory irritants and human carcinogens. Although laboratory and animal studies have demonstrated that this smoke has inflammatory and mutagenic potential, no population-based studies of the health effects of exposure to surgical smoke have been published. We examined the association between duration of employment as an operating room nurse, a proxy measure for surgical smoke exposure, and subsequent lung cancer risk.

Methods This study was conducted among 86 747 women in the Nurses’ Health Study. Information on the duration of prior operating room employment was collected in 1984, and the women were followed for incident, confirmed lung cancer. Cox proportional hazards regression was used to model the incidence rate ratio of lung cancer for each exposure category using women with no prior operating room employment for comparison. All of the models were adjusted for age, smoking history, passive smoke exposure, fruit and vegetable consumption, and alpha carotene and lycopene intake.

Results A history of operating room employment was not associated with an increased rate of lung cancer in multivariable analyses [rate ratio (RR) 0.99, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 0.86–1.15]. In fact, nurses in the highest exposure category, ≥15 years of operating room employment, had a significantly lower rate of lung cancer than nurses with no prior operating room employment (RR 0.58, 95% CI 0.37–0.91), possibly due to confounding by overall health status or residual confounding by smoking history.

Conclusions Long-term exposure to surgical smoke, as measured by the duration of operating room employment, does not appear to increase the risk of lung cancer.