A new study has linked exposure to sawdust and wood dust with lung cancer. When I reviewed this study, the results made sense. On-the-job exposure to wood dust has been linked with cancers of the sinuses and nasal passages in the past, and occupational exposures are thought to be responsible for 13 to 29% of lung cancers in men.
But my thoughts turned to "off-the-job" exposures that aren't regulated. What does this study mean for all of you who enjoy working with wood as a hobby?
First, let's look at the study. Researchers evaluated individuals who were exposed to sawdust and wood dust on the job in a sawmill. In this setting, exposure to wood dust was associated with a 50% increased risk of developing lung cancer.
These researchers also looked at people who had exposure to sawdust and wood dust as a hobby. In this setting they found no increased risk of developing lung cancer.
I'm all about prevention, but sometimes it is helpful to look at what the studies really say. As I have been told many times, "it seems everything causes cancer." For now, anyway, if you enjoy a little carpentry for fun, the light seems green to saw and carve away.
And...when you hear the headlines scream about the latest thing that causes cancer, ask what the study was designed to show. In this case it is an important reminder to be careful on the job, but not a reason to give up your favorite hobby.
Bhatti, P. et al. Wood dust exposure and risk of lung cancer. Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 2010. doi:10.1136/oem.2010.060004.