It is still not fully understood whether and how factors such as time, age and smoking modify the relationship between lung cancer and radon at low exposures and exposure rates. Improved knowledge is necessary for the dose conversion of radon in working level month (WLM) into effective dose, as currently discussed by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP). An update of the German uranium miner cohort study (n = 58,974 men) with a 10-year extension of mortality follow-up (1946–2013) was used to further examine this issue. Internal Poisson regression was applied to estimate the excess relative risk (ERR) for lung cancer mortality per unit of cumulative radon exposure in WLM with exponential time-related effect modifiers. In the full cohort restricted to <100 WLM the estimated overall ERR/WLM was 0.006 [95% confidence interval (CI): 0.003; 0.010] based on 1,254 lung cancer deaths and 1,620,190 person-years at risk. Both age at and time since exposure turned out to be important modifiers of the ERR/WLM and were included in the final model. Here, the ERR/WLM centered on age at exposure of 30 years, and 20 years since exposure was 0.016 (95% CI: 0.008; 0.028). This value decreased statistically significantly by approximately 40% and 60% for each 10-year increase in age at exposure and time since exposure, respectively. The joint effect of smoking and radon exposure was investigated in the sub-cohort of miners hired in 1960 or later, which includes data on smoking status. The centered ERR/WLM was slightly higher for non/light smokers compared to moderate/heavy smokers (0.022 versus 0.013). The current findings provide evidence for an increased lung cancer risk at low radon exposures or exposure rates that is modified by age and time. The observed risk is lower, but statistically compatible to those of other miner studies at low exposures or exposure rates. These findings reject an additive- and support a sub- to (supra-) multiplicative interaction between smoking and radon.
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Vol. 189 • No. 2