Original article

Scand J Work Environ Health 1994;20(1):62-64    pdf

https://doi.org/10.5271/sjweh.1427 | Issue date: 01 Feb 1994

Is there an association between pleural plaques and lung cancer without asbestosis?

by Nurminen M, Tossavainen A

OBJECTIVES A recent review or meta-analysis of epidemiologic studies concluded that persons with asbestos-related pleural plaques do not have an increased risk of lung cancer in the absence of parenchymal asbestosis. The reviewer inferred that this conclusion provided indirect supportive evidence for the proposition that asbestosis is a necessary precursor of asbestos-related lung cancer. The objective of the present communication is to contest these claims.

METHODS Finnish epidemiologic data and population statistics were used to estimate the apparent risk ratio of lung cancer associated with radiographic signs of pleural plaques. Power calculations were applied to compute the needed population sizes to demonstrate that the association is statistically significant.

RESULTS Unrealistically large population studies would be needed to observe the statistical relation between pleural plaques and lung cancer, quantitated as a risk ratio of 1.1, resulting from relatively low levels of environmental asbestos exposure. In realistic and valid epidemiologic studies on heavily exposed subpopulations, a two- or threefold risk can be identified.

CONCLUSIONS Uninformative studies should not be interpreted as providing suppressive evidence that pleural plaques are a noncausal risk indicator of lung cancer. Even for the null hypothesis, the inference that asbestosis is a necessary causal link between asbestos and lung cancer is illogical.