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Uranium Mining and Lung Cancer Among Navajo Men in New Mexico and Arizona, 1969 to 1993

Gilliland, Frank D. MD; Hunt, William C. MS; Pardilla, Marla MSW, MPH; Key, Charles R. MD, PhD

Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: March 2000 - Volume 42 - Issue 3 - p 278-283

Navajo men who were underground miners have excess risk of lung cancer. To further characterize the long-term consequences of uranium mining in this high-risk population, we examined lung cancer incidence among Navajo men residing in New Mexico and Arizona from 1969 to 1993 and conducted a population-based case-control study to estimate the risk of lung cancer for Navajo uranium miners. Uranium mining contributed substantially to lung cancer among Navajo men over the 25-year period following the end of mining for the Navajo Nation. Sixty-three (67%) of the 94-incident lung cancers among Navajo men occurred in former uranium miners. The relative risk for a history of mining was 28.6 (95% confidence interval, 13.2–61.7). Smoking did not account for the strong relationship between lung cancer and uranium mining. The Navajo experience with uranium mining is a unique example of exposure in a single occupation accounting for the majority of lung cancers in an entire population.

From the Department of Preventive Medicine, the Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center; the Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Southern California; the New Mexico Tumor Registry; and the Department of Pathology, University of New Mexico School of Medicine.

Address correspondence to: Dr Frank D. Gilliland, Department of Preventive Medicine, University of Southern California, School of Medicine, 1540 Alcazar St. CHP Suite 236, Los Angeles, CA 90033; email

©2000The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine