Brain cancer mortality and potential occupational exposure to lead: findings from the National Longitudinal Mortality Study, 1979-1989

We evaluated the association between potential occupational lead exposure and the risk of brain cancer mortality in the National Longitudinal Mortality Study (NLMS), which is a prospective census-based cohort study of mortality among the noninstitutionalized United States population (1979-1989). The present study was limited to individuals for whom occupation and industry were available (n = 317,968). Estimates of probability and intensity of lead exposure were assigned using a job-exposure matrix (JEM). Risk estimates for the impact of lead on brain cancer mortality were computed using standardized mortality ratio (SMR) and proportional hazards and Poisson regression techniques, adjusting for the effects of age, gender and several other covariates. Brain cancer mortality rates were greater among individuals in jobs potentially involving lead exposure as compared to those unexposed (age- and gender-adjusted hazard ratio (HR) = 1.5; 95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.9-2.3) with indications of an exposure-response trend (probability: low HR = 0.7 (95% CI = 0.2-2.2), medium HR = 1.4 (95% CI = 0.8-2.5), high HR = 2.2 (95% CI = 1.2-4.0); intensity: low HR = 1.2 (95% CI = 0.7-2.1), medium/high HR = 1.9 (95% CI = 1.0-3.4)). Brain cancer risk was greatest among individuals with the highest levels of probability and intensity (HR 2.3; 95% CI association between occupational lead exposure and brain cancer mortality, but need to be interpreted cautiously due to the consideration of brain cancer as one disease entity and the absence of biological measures of lead exposure.