According to the American Journal of Epidemiology, in a study of more than 3,400 men with and without lung cancer, a group of Swedish researchers found that those exposed to the highest level of diesel fumes were 63% more likely to develop lung cancer than men not exposed. The increased risk was comparable to the 68% higher risk found for on-the-job asbestos exposure, a well-established risk factor for lung cancer.
Dr. Per Gustavsson of the Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm, Sweden, and his colleagues found that people who work as truck drivers, along with mechanics, miner/rock blasters, bus drivers, construction machine operators and forklift truck drivers, are at increased risk.
Asbestos has been definitively linked to lung cancer, but studies have yet to prove whether prolonged exposure to diesel fumes poses a similar threat. Smoking is the major cause of lung cancer, followed by exposure to radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas. The researchers determined that 2.7% of lung cancer cases could be blamed on diesel exhaust, 4% on asbestos and 2.2% on other combustion products.
The relationship between diesel exhaust and lung cancer is still unclear, but the researchers say that a number of studies have already suggested that continued exposure to high levels of the fumes increase the odds of developing cancer.