BACKGROUND--In an earlier study of gold miners men with silicosis were found to have abnormal lung function, including airflow obstruction and reduced diffusing capacity. In a follow up study a sample of these men was examined by computed tomography to determine whether emphysema accounted for these abnormalities, which are associated with silicosis in this working population. METHODS--A sample of 70 men from a cohort of older gold miners with and without silicosis who had worked underground for a mean period of 29 years was examined by computed tomography to determine whether each man had emphysema. In addition, each man had lung function tests and routine chest radiography (125 kV). RESULTS--A total of 48 men had emphysema on examination by computed tomography. On the basis of the results in a chest radiograph 55 of the men had silicosis. Emphysema was related to silicosis, being present in five of the 15 men without silicosis and in 43 of the 55 with silicosis. Diffuse emphysema was apparent in two men without silicosis (14%) and in 25 men with silicosis (45%). The proportion of men with diffuse emphysema increased from 14% in those with International Labour Organisation category 0 nodule profusion to 46% in those with category 1, 48% in those with category 2, and 67% in those with category 3. Emphysema was also related to smoking: eight of the 18 who had never smoked and 40 of the 52 smokers had emphysema. All of those who had never smoked and had emphysema had silicosis with category 2/2 or greater nodule profusion. Lung function tests showed changes associated with silicosis that could be explained by the associated emphysema. CONCLUSIONS--In this population emphysema occurred in association with silicosis and accounted for the abnormalities in lung function associated with silicosis.
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