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Lung cancer, tobacco, and environmental factors in the African population of the Northern Province, South Africa
  1. Olga Mzilenia,
  2. Freddy Sitasb,
  3. Krisela Steync,
  4. Henri Carrarab,
  5. Pieter Bekkerc
  1. aDepartment of Internal Medicine, Medical University of South Africa, Medunsa, Republic of South Africa, bCancer Epidemiology Unit, National Cancer Registry, Department of Anatomical Pathology, South African Institute for Medical Research, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, cMedical Research Council of South Africa
  1. Dr O Mzileni, Department of Internal Medicine, Medical University of South Africa, PO Box 471, Medunsa 0204, Republic of South Africamzileni{at}


DESIGN Case-control study among incident African patients with cancer. Questionnaire assessment of exposure to tobacco, occupation, and place of birth.

SETTING Northern Province, South Africa.

SUBJECTS Between 1993 and 1995, 288 men and 60 women with lung cancer and 183 male and 197 female controls (consisting of patients newly diagnosed with cancers other than those known to be associated with smoking) were interviewed. Unmatched, unconditional logistic regression was used to calculate odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs) of developing lung cancer in relation to a number of variables.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE Risk of developing lung cancer related to exposure to tobacco, indoor pollution, dusty work environment, and residential exposure to asbestos.

RESULTS There was a significant increase in the risk of developing lung cancer through smoking. In men, the ORs were 2.2 (95% CI = 1.0 to 4.6) in ex-smokers, 9.8 (95% CI = 5.9 to 16.4) in light smokers (0–14 g/day), and 12.0 (95% CI = 6.5 to 22.3) in heavy smokers. In women, the ORs were 5.8 (95% CI = 1.3 to 25.8) in ex-smokers and 5.5 (95% CI = 2.6 to 11.3) in current smokers. Work in a dusty industry showed an elevated risk (OR = 3.2, 95% CI = 1.8 to 5.8) for lung cancer only in men. Male residents of areas where asbestos was shipped for distribution (termed moderately polluted asbestos areas) had a 2.5-fold increase (95% CI = 1.0 to 4.4) in the risk (OR) of developing lung cancer, and residents of areas where asbestos was mined (termed heavily polluted asbestos areas) had a 2.8-fold increase in risk (95% CI = 0.7 to 10.4). Female residents of heavily polluted asbestos areas showed elevated risks of 5.4 (95% CI = 1.3 to 22.5) of developing lung cancer.

CONCLUSION The data suggest that tobacco smoking is the most important risk factor for the development of lung cancer in this setting. Risks for lung cancer are reminiscent of those observed in Western countries in the 1960s and 1970s. However, environmental exposure to asbestos, a dusty occupation (in men), and perhaps indoor air pollution may also contribute to the development of lung cancer in this province.

  • lung cancer
  • tobacco smoking
  • South Africa

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