Previous estimates of the effect of occupational asbestos on lung cancer mortality have been obtained by using methods that are subject to the healthy-worker survivor bias. G-estimation of a structural nested model provides consistent exposure effect estimates under this bias.
We estimated the effect of cumulative asbestos exposure on lung cancer mortality in a cohort comprising 2564 textile factory workers who were followed from January 1940 to December 2001.
At entry, median age was 23 years, with 42% of the cohort being women and 20% nonwhite. During the follow-up period, 15% of person-years were classified as occurring while employed and 13% as occupationally exposed to asbestos. For a 100 fiber-year/ml increase in cumulative asbestos, a Weibull model adjusting for sex, race, birth year, baseline exposure, and age at study entry yielded a survival time ratio of 0.88 (95% confidence interval = 0.83 to 0.93). Further adjustment for work status yielded no practical change. The corresponding survival time ratio obtained using g-estimation of a structural nested model was 0.57 (0.33 to 0.96).
Accounting for the healthy-worker survivor bias resulted in a 35% stronger effect estimate. However, this estimate was considerably less precise. When healthy-worker survivor bias is suspected, methods that account for it should be used.