Excess lung cancer occurrence in poultry plants. Occupational risk factors: Findings for oncogenic viruses exposure and other occupational exposures

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Abstract

Certain viruses naturally infect and cause cancer in chickens and turkeys. Humans are widely exposed. The viruses cause cancer in primates, and transform human cells in vitro, but it is not known if they cause cancer in humans, mainly because of the lack of epidemiologic evidence. We conducted cohort mortality studies of workers in poultry slaughtering/processing plants across the United States, because they have the highest human exposures. An excess of lung cancer and other deaths was recorded in the poultry workers. Here, we report on a case-cohort study of the lung cancer deaths nested within these cohorts, that was conducted to provide epidemiologic evidence linking these viruses with human cancer occurrence, while adjusting for possible confounders, including workplace chemical carcinogens. We obtained interviews for 339 lung cancer deaths and 457 controls, selected from our combined cohorts of 30,411 poultry plant workers and 16,405 non-poultry workers, belonging to United Food & Commercial Workers unions. Data was analyzed by both logistic regression and Cox regression, adjusting for smoking and other confounders. Lung cancer risk was independently associated with tasks or work areas indicative of exposure to both poultry oncogenic viruses and to workplace chemical carcinogens. The study provides an incremental piece of evidence (epidemiologic), indirectly linking the oncogenic viruses of poultry with the occurrence of cancer in humans, and thus may have public health implications, but the limitations highlighted must be considered. Confirmatory studies, particularly molecular studies providing definitive proof of poultry oncogenic retrovirus integration in human DNA are needed, before the findings observed in this study can be put into proper perspective.

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