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      Incidence of cancer among residents of high temperature geothermal areas in Iceland: a census based study 1981 to 2010

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          Residents of geothermal areas are exposed to geothermal emissions and water containing hydrogen sulphide and radon. We aim to study the association of the residence in high temperature geothermal area with the risk of cancer.


          This is an observational cohort study where the population of a high-temperature geothermal area (35,707 person years) was compared with the population of a cold, non-geothermal area (571,509 person years). The cohort originates from the 1981 National Census. The follow up from 1981 to 2010 was based on record linkage by personal identifier with nation-wide death and cancer registries. Through the registries it was possible to ascertain emigration and vital status and to identify the cancer cases, 95% of which had histological verification. The hazard ratio (HR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) were estimated in Cox-model, adjusted for age, gender, education and housing.


          Adjusted HR in the high-temperature geothermal area for all cancers was 1.22 (95% CI 1.05 to 1.42) as compared with the cold area. The HR for pancreatic cancer was 2.85 (95% CI 1.39 to 5.86), breast cancer 1.59 (95% CI 1.10 to 2.31), lymphoid and hematopoietic cancer 1.64 (95% CI 1.00 to 2.66), and non-Hodgkins lymphoma 3.25 (95% CI 1.73 to 6.07). The HR for basal cell carcinoma of the skin was 1.61 (95% CI 1.10 to 2.35). The HRs were increased for cancers of the nasal cavities, larynx, lung, prostate, thyroid gland and for soft tissue sarcoma; however the 95% CIs included unity.


          More precise information on chemical and physical exposures are needed to draw firm conclusions from the findings. The significant excess risk of breast cancer, and basal cell carcinoma of the skin, and the suggested excess risk of other radiation-sensitive cancers, calls for measurement of the content of the gas emissions and the hot water, which have been of concern in previous studies in volcanic areas. There are indications of an exposure-response relationship, as the risk was higher in comparison with the cold than with the warm reference area. Social status has been taken into account and data on reproductive factors and smoking habits show that these do not seem to explain the increased risk of cancers, however unknown confounding can not be excluded.

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          Occupation and cancer - follow-up of 15 million people in five Nordic countries.

          We present up to 45 years of cancer incidence data by occupational category for the Nordic populations. The study covers the 15 million people aged 30-64 years in the 1960, 1970, 1980/1981 and/or 1990 censuses in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, and the 2.8 million incident cancer cases diagnosed in these people in a follow-up until about 2005. The study was undertaken as a cohort study with linkage of individual records based on the personal identity codes used in all the Nordic countries. In the censuses, information on occupation for each person was provided through free text in self-administered questionnaires. The data were centrally coded and computerised in the statistical offices. For the present study, the original occupational codes were reclassified into 53 occupational categories and one group of economically inactive persons. All Nordic countries have a nation-wide registration of incident cancer cases during the entire study period. For the present study the incident cancer cases were classified into 49 primary diagnostic categories. Some categories have been further divided according to sub-site or morphological type. The observed number of cancer cases in each group of persons defined by country, sex, age, period and occupation was compared with the expected number calculated from the stratum specific person years and the incidence rates for the national population. The result was presented as a standardised incidence ratio, SIR, defined as the observed number of cases divided by the expected number. For all cancers combined (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer), the study showed a wide variation among men from an SIR of 0.79 (95% confidence interval 0.66-0.95) in domestic assistants to 1.48 (1.43-1.54) in waiters. The occupations with the highest SIRs also included workers producing beverage and tobacco, seamen and chimney sweeps. Among women, the SIRs varied from 0.58 (0.37-0.87) in seafarers to 1.27 (1.19-1.35) in tobacco workers. Low SIRs were found for farmers, gardeners and teachers. Our study was able to repeat most of the confirmed associations between occupations and cancers. It is known that almost all mesotheliomas are associated with asbestos exposure. Accordingly, plumbers, seamen and mechanics were the occupations with the highest risk in the present study. Mesothelioma was the cancer type showing the largest relative differences between the occupations. Outdoor workers such as fishermen, gardeners and farmers had the highest risk of lip cancer, while the lowest risk was found among indoor workers such as physicians and artistic workers. Studies of nasal cancer have shown increased risks associated with exposure to wood dust, both for those in furniture making and for those exposed exclusively to soft wood like the majority of Nordic woodworkers. We observed an SIR of 1.84 (1.66-2.04) in male and 1.88 (0.90-3.46) in female woodworkers. For nasal adenocarcinoma, the SIR in males was as high as 5.50 (4.60-6.56). Male waiters and tobacco workers had the highest risk of lung cancer, probably attributable to active and passive smoking. Miners and quarry workers also had a high risk, which might be related to their exposure to silica dust and radon daughters. Among women, tobacco workers and engine operators had a more than fourfold risk as compared with the lung cancer risk among farmers, gardeners and teachers. The occupational risk patterns were quite similar in all main histological subtypes of lung cancer. Bladder cancer is considered as one of the cancer types most likely to be related to occupational carcinogens. Waiters had the highest risk of bladder cancer in men and tobacco workers in women, and the low-risk categories were the same ones as for lung cancer. All this can be accounted for by smoking. The second-highest SIRs were among chimney sweeps and hairdressers. Chimney sweeps are exposed to carcinogens such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from the chimney soot, and hairdressers' work environment is also rich in chemical agents. Exposure to the known hepatocarcinogens, the Hepatitis B virus and aflatoxin, is rare in the Nordic countries, and a large proportion of primary liver cancers can therefore be attributed to alcohol consumption. The highest risks of liver cancer were seen in occupational categories with easy access to alcohol at the work place or with cultural traditions of high alcohol consumption, such as waiters, cooks, beverage workers, journalists and seamen. The risk of colon cancer has been related to sedentary work. The findings in the present study did not strongly indicate any protective role of physical activity. Colon cancer was one of the cancer types showing the smallest relative variation in incidence between occupational categories. The occupational variation in the risk of female breast cancer (the most common cancer type in the present series, 373 361 cases) was larger, and there was a tendency of physically demanding occupations to show SIRs below unity. Women in occupations which require a high level of education have, on average, a higher age at first child-birth and elevated breast cancer incidence. Women in occupational categories with the highest average number of children had markedly lower incidence. In male breast cancer (2 336 cases), which is not affected by the dominating reproductive factors, there was a suggestion of an increase in risk in occupations characterised by shift work. Night-shift work was recently classified as probably carcinogenic, with human evidence based on breast cancer research. The most common cancer among men in the present cohort was prostate cancer (339 973 cases). Despite the huge number of cases, we were unable to demonstrate any occupation-related risks. The observed small occupational variation could be easily explained by varying PSA test frequency. The Nordic countries are known for equity and free and equal access to health care for all citizens. The present study shows that the risk of cancer, even under these circumstances, is highly dependent on the person's position in the society. Direct occupational hazards seem to explain only a small percentage of the observed variation - but still a large number of cases - while indirect factors such as life style changes related to longer education and decreasing physical activity become more important. This publication is the first one from the extensive Nordic Occupational Cancer (NOCCA) project. Subsequent studies will focus on associations between specific work-related factors and cancer diseases with the aim to identify exposure-response patterns. In addition to the cancer data demonstrated in the present publication, the NOCCA project produced Nordic Job Exposure Matrix (described in separate articles in this issue of Acta Oncologica) that transforms information about occupational title histories to quantitative estimates of specific exposures. The third essential component is methodological development related to analysis and interpretation of results based on averaged information of exposures and co-factors in the occupational categories.
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            Age at first birth, parity and risk of breast cancer: a meta-analysis of 8 studies from the Nordic countries.

            Several large epidemiological studies in the Nordic countries have failed to confirm an association between age at first birth and breast cancer independent of parity. To assess whether lack of power or heterogeneity between the countries could explain this, a meta-analysis was performed of 8 population-based studies (3 cohort and 5 case-control) of breast cancer and reproductive variables in the Nordic countries, including a total of 5,568 cases. It confirmed that low parity and late age at first birth are significant and independent determinants of breast-cancer risk. Nulliparity was associated with a 30% increase in risk compared with parous women, and for every 2 births, the risk was reduced by about 16%. There was a significant trend of increasing risk with increasing age at first birth, women giving first birth after the age of 35 years having a 40% increased risk compared to those with a first birth before the age of 20 years. Tests for heterogeneity between studies were not significant for any of the examined variables. In the absence of bias, this suggests that several individual Nordic studies may have had too little power to detect the weak effect of age at first birth observed in the meta-analysis.
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              Papillary thyroid cancer incidence in the volcanic area of Sicily.

              The steadily increasing incidence of thyroid cancer has been attributed mostly to more sensitive thyroid nodule screening. However, various environmental factors, such as those associated with volcanic areas, cannot be excluded as risk factors. We evaluated thyroid cancer incidence in Sicily, which has a homogenous population and a province (Catania) that includes the Mt Etna volcanic area. In a register-based epidemiological survey, we collected all incident thyroid cancers in Sicily from January 1, 2002, through December 31, 2004. The age-standardized incidence rate for the world population (ASR(w)) was calculated and expressed as the number of thyroid cancer diagnoses per 100 000 residents per year. The association of thyroid cancer incidence rate with sex, age, tumor histotype, and various environmental factors was evaluated by modeling the variation of the ASR(w). All statistical tests were two-sided. In 2002-2004, 1950 incident thyroid cancers were identified in Sicily (among women, ASR(w) = 17.8, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 16.9 to 18.7; and among men, ASR(w) = 3.7, 95% CI = 3.3 to 4.1). Although the percentage of thyroid cancers that were microcarcinomas (ie, < or = 10 mm) and ratio of men to women with thyroid cancer were similar in all nine Sicilian provinces, thyroid cancer incidence was statistically significantly higher in the province of Catania (among women, ASR(w) = 31.7, 95% CI = 29.1 to 34.3; and among men, ASR(w) = 6.4, 95% CI = 5.2 to 7.5) than in the rest of Sicily (among women, ASR(w) = 14.1, 95% CI = 13.2 to 15.0; and among men, ASR(w) = 3.0, 95% CI = 2.6 to 3.4) (all P values < .001). Incidence of papillary, but not follicular or medullary, cancers was statistically significantly increased in Catania province, and papillary tumors from patients in Catania more frequently carried the BRAF V600E gene mutation (55 [52%] of 106 tumors) than tumors from patients elsewhere in Sicily (68 [33%] of 205 tumors) (relative risk = 1.7, 95% CI = 1.0 to 2.8, P = .02). Cancer incidence was statistically significantly lower in rural areas than in urban areas of Sicily (P = .003). No association with mild iodine deficiency or industrial installations was found. Levels of many elements (including boron, iron, manganese, and vanadium) in the drinking water of Catania province often exceeded maximum admissible concentrations, in contrast to water in the rest of Sicily. Residents of Catania province with its volcanic region appear to have a higher incidence of papillary thyroid cancer than elsewhere in Sicily.

                Author and article information

                Environ Health
                Environ Health
                Environmental Health
                BioMed Central
                1 October 2012
                : 11
                : 73
                [1 ]School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Iceland, Reykjavik, Iceland
                [2 ]Department of Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Iceland, IS-101, Reykjavik, Iceland
                Copyright ©2012 Kristbjornsdottir and Rafnsson; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.



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