Occupational Cancer–The Causes

Following on from my last post on occupational cancer, I thought I’d look at the latest evidence on what causes the 8000 estimated deaths every year that are linked to occupational cancer.

HSE commissioned Dr Lesley Rushton and colleagues, from Imperial College London to lead a project in collaboration with experts from the Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL), the Institute of Occupational Medicine (IoM) and the Institute of Environment and Health, to produce an updated and detailed estimate of the burden of occupational cancer in Great Britain. Their findings have been published in a HSE Research Report. They make interesting reading.

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Occupational cancer deaths by cause in Great Britain, 2005

The main cause remains asbestos, accounting for almost half of the deaths. Other “traditional” causes also featured prominently – such as mineral oils.  Exposure to diesel exhaust emissions, recently confirmed as a cause of cancer in humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) was also identified as a major work-related cause. There were some new revelations. Although crystalline silica has been recognised as a human carcinogen for some years, I was surprised at the number of cases attributed to exposure to silica containing dusts.

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Exposure to silica dust during construction work

In most cases the implementation of good occupational hygiene practices to control exposure to these chemical agents would significantly reduce the number of cases.

Another interesting finding was that shift working was a major cause of breast cancer in women. Solving this one is more challenging and would require some new thinking and approaches to control.

Occupational cancer is a growing problem. Lesley Rushton at the last BOHS Annual Conference 2013 who noted that by 2060 the number of deaths from occupational cancer will have risen by 5,000 to 13,000 a year if we do nothing. I don’t think we can let that happen

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