Pleural plaques and the risk of lung cancer in asbestos-exposed subjects

Fraser J.H. Brims, Karen Kong, Ed J.A. Harris, Nita Sodhi-Berry, Alison Reid, Conor P. Murray, Peter J. Franklin, A. Bill Musk, Nicholas H. De Klerk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Citations (Scopus)


Rationale: Asbestos exposure is associated with a dose-dependent risk of lung cancer. The association between lung cancer and the presence of pleural plaques remains controversial. Objectives: To define the relationship between pleural plaques and lung cancer risk. Methods: Subjects were from two cohorts: 1) crocidolite mine and mill workers and Wittenoom Township residents and 2) a mixed-asbestos-fiber, mixed-occupation group. All subjects underwent annual review since 1990, chest X-ray or low-dose computed tomography scan, and outcome linkage to national cancer and mortality registry data. Cox regression, with adjustment for age (as the underlying matching time variable), was used to estimate hazard ratios (HRs) for lung cancer incidence by sex, tobacco smoking, asbestos exposure, presence of asbestosis, and pleural plaques. Measurements and Main Results: For all 4,240 subjects, mean age at follow up was 65.4 years, 3,486 (82.0%) were male, 1,315 (31.0%) had pleural plaques, and 1,353 (32.0%) had radiographic asbestosis. Overall, 3,042 (71.7%) were ever-smokers with mean tobacco exposure of 33 pack-years. In total, 200 lung cancers were recorded. Risk of lung cancer increased with cumulative exposure to cigarettes, asbestos, and presence of asbestosis. Pleural plaques did not confer any additional lung cancer risk in either cohort (cohort 1: HR, 1.03; 95% confidence interval, 0.64-1.67; P = 0.89; cohort 2: HR, 0.75; 95% confidence interval, 0.45-1.25; P = 0.28). Conclusions: The presence of pleural plaques on radiologic imaging does not confer additional increase in the risk of lung cancer. This result is consistent across two cohorts with differing asbestos fiber exposures and intensity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-62
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020

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