The 4th of February this year was designated as “World Cancer Day” and the subject of cancer, it’s causes and prevention made the news headlines on the BBC and in several newspapers in the UK. The World Health Organisation as it predicted the number of new cases could soar 70% to nearly 25 million a year over the next 20 years. The main focus of the reports was how cancer is linked to lifestyle factors, such as alcohol abuse, sugar consumption and obesity. Unfortunately there was no mention of occupational factors that can cause cancer in any of the features I saw.
In the UK it is estimated that 4% of all cancer cases are associated with work – the third most important cause of cancer, after smoking and diet/alcohol consumption.
Asbestos – still a major cause of occupational cancer
The latest statistics available from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) indicate that about 8,000 cancer deaths and some 13,500 newly diagnosed cancer cases each year could be due to occupational exposures. It’s a growing problem, with a stark warning from the medical statistician Dr Lesley Rushton at the last BOHS Annual Conference 2013 who noted that in the absence of action, annual deaths from preventable occupational cancers in 2060 will have risen by 5,000 more than the current level of 8,000.
Dr Christopher Wild, director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) was quoted in the Guardian as saying
"Despite exciting advances, ….. we cannot treat our way out of the cancer problem. More commitment to prevention and early detection is desperately needed in order to complement improved treatments and address the alarming rise in the cancer burden globally."
This is certainly true with respect to occupational exposures. The majority of the agents responsible are well known and exposures can be prevented or controlled by applying good occupational hygiene practices. The solutions are available. All it needs is the will, the determination and adequate resources to implement them.