BACKGROUND: Lung cancer rates among never-smoking women in Xuanwei and Fuyuan in China are among the highest in the world and have been attributed to the domestic use of smoky (bituminous) coal for heating and cooking. However, the key components of coal that drive lung cancer risk have not been identified.
OBJECTIVES: We aimed to investigate the relationship between lifelong exposure to the constituents of smoky coal (and other fuel types) and lung cancer.
METHODS: Using a population-based case-control study of lung cancer among 1,015 never-smoking female cases and 485 controls, we examined the association between exposure to 43 household air pollutants and lung cancer. Pollutant predictions were derived from a comprehensive exposure assessment study, which included methylated polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which have never been directly evaluated in an epidemiological study of any cancer. Hierarchical clustering and penalized regression were applied in order to address high colinearity in exposure variables.
RESULTS: The strongest association with lung cancer was for a cluster of 25 PAHs [odds ratio (OR): 2.21; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.67, 2.87 per 1 standard deviation (SD) change], within which 5-methylchrysene (5-MC), a mutagenic and carcinogenic PAH, had the highest individual observed OR (5.42; 95% CI: 0.94, 27.5). A positive association with nitrogen dioxide ([Formula: see text]) was also observed (OR: 2.06; 95% CI: 1.19, 3.49). By contrast, neither benzo(a)pyrene (BaP) nor fine particulate matter with aerodynamic diameter [Formula: see text] ([Formula: see text]) were associated with lung cancer in the multipollutant models.
CONCLUSIONS: To our knowledge, this is the first study to comprehensively evaluate the association between lung cancer and household air pollution (HAP) constituents estimated over the entire life course. Given the global ubiquity of coal use domestically for indoor cooking and heating and commercially for electric power generation, our study suggests that more extensive monitoring of coal combustion products, including methylated PAHs, may be warranted to more accurately assess health risks and develop prevention strategies from this exposure. https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP4913.