Cancer risk in the workplace

Cancer risk in the workplace

Exposure to carcinogens in the workplace has been shown in multiple studies to be a serious concern with a wide spread of cancers across industries from firefighting to farming and petrochemicals to printing.

Any substance that can cause cancer is called a carcinogen. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has analysed over 1000 compounds in our environments since 1971 and declared approximately 500 to be carcinogenic.

However, the US National Toxicology Programme listed just 62 in its 2016 report. Cancer Research UK has even previously stated that ‘Environmental Toxins have not been proven to cause cancer, and if they were ever proven to do so, it would only be a small number!’

In a 50-page report by the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, researchers stated that they believed 35 per cent of all cancer cases were linked to environmental toxins.

Here we will confine ourselves to environmental toxins proven to be causing problems to workers. There have been numerous studies, for example a major review by CAREX Canada – from a team of Scientists at British Columbia University.

Some examples:

  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma has been linked to solvent, pesticide and herbicide exposure (factory workers, fire fighters, farmers, oil industry),
  • Mesothelioma, and some breast and prostate cancers have been linked to asbestos (building industry),
  • Multiple Myeloma has been linked to pesticides increasing levels of sticky proteins (MGUS) in the blood; (farmers, pesticide workers)
  • Lung cancer has been linked to hexavalent chromium (steel making, wood preservation, printing, textiles), and to crystalline silica (mining, drilling),
  • Bladder cancer has been linked to the primary solvent used in dry cleaning,
  • Melanoma has been linked to arsenic in sheep dips, (factory workers, farmers)
  • Breast cancer has been linked to Diesel fumes, occupational chemicals in general and specifically organic solvents.
  • Prostate cancer has been linked to high (but not low) exposure to pesticides and to higher exposure to cadmium (farmers)
  • Kidney cancer has been linked to cadmium and mercury poisoning.
  • Leukaemia and lymphoma have been linked to benzene, (fire fighters, rubber, drugs, pesticide workers),
  • Cancers of the nasal cavities have been linked to wood dust, (logging, buildering, paper mill, forestry workers),
  • Nasopharyngeal cancer and leukaemia have been linked to formaldehyde, (health care workers, morticians, pathology lab workers),
  • Leukaemia has been linked to chemotherapy drugs Chlorambucil, Melphalan and Cyclophosphamide (Yes, really, putting nurses, hospital laundry workers, lab workers and patients at risk)
  • Brain tumours are at an increased risk for pilots because of altitude and exposure to radiation,
  • Brain tumours have also been linked to lead exposure (painters and motor mechanics had the highest levels),
  • Thyroid, breast and blood and lymph cancers have been linked to ionising radiation (hospital technicians, uranium miners, power station workers, uranium miners, airline staff, astronauts).
  • Thyroid cancer has been linked to pesticide use by male farm workers

Workplace chemicals are regulated, but if you are exposed day in and day out ,they must be a concern.

It is important to add that the research studies for the above are neither small scale nor one-off studies. Most have at least one meta-analysis.

For example, apart from the British Columbia University review, the Yale School of Public Health has produced a report on organic solvents and their links to non-Hodgkin lymphoma and UC Berkeley School of Public Health conducted a meta-study using data from 22 research studies. The conclusions were consistent solvents such as acetone, benzene, toluene, xylene, turpentine, and various alcohols, not just ethyl alcohol, have been linked to lymphoma. As Berkeley researchers concluded, ‘benzene exposure, linked to both leukaemia and lymphoma, is the subject of both increasing American research … and lawsuits!’

You don’t have to work in the factory. Living or working down-wind of chemical factories, steel makers, wood cutters/timber merchants and cement factories have all been linked to higher incidences of blood and kidney cancers. Cement factories have high levels of mercury surrounding them.  At CANCERactive, we even helped a Cement factory owner with his Multiple Myeloma.

Go to: Pesticide use and cancer

  Approved by the Medical Board. Click Here 


2021 Research
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