BACKGROUND: Asbestos is a well-recognized cause of lung cancer, but there is considerable between-study heterogeneity in the slope of the exposure-response relationship.
OBJECTIVE: We considered the role of quality of the exposure assessment to potentially explain heterogeneity in exposure-response slope estimates.
DATA SOURCES: We searched PubMed MEDLINE (1950-2009) for studies with quantitative estimates of cumulative asbestos exposure and lung cancer mortality and identified 19 original epidemiological studies. One was a population-based case-control study, and the others were industry-based cohort studies.
DATA EXTRACTION: Cumulative exposure categories and corresponding risks were abstracted. Exposure-response slopes [KL (lung cancer potency factor of asbestos)] were calculated using linear relative risk regression models.
DATA SYNTHESIS: We assessed the quality of five exposure assessment aspects of each study and conducted random effects univariate and multivariate meta-regressions. Heterogeneity in exposure-response relationships was greater than expected by chance (I2 = 64%). Stratification by exposure assessment characteristics revealed that studies with well-documented exposure assessment, larger contrast in exposure, greater coverage of the exposure history by exposure measurement data, and more complete job histories had higher meta-KL values than did studies without these characteristics. The latter two covariates were most strongly associated with the KL value. Meta-KL values increased when we incrementally restricted analyses to higher-quality studies.
CONCLUSIONS: This meta-analysis indicates that studies with higher-quality asbestos exposure assessment yield higher meta-estimates of the lung cancer risk per unit of exposure. Potency differences for predominantly chrysotile versus amphibole asbestos-exposed cohorts become difficult to ascertain when meta-analyses are restricted to studies with fewer exposure assessment limitations.