Occupational Cancer


Occupational cancer is cancer caused by occupational hazards. Several cancers have been directly tied to occupational hazards, including chimney sweeps' carcinoma, mesothelioma, and others.

Common occupational hazards implicated in cancer

Occupational exposure to chemicals, dusts, radiation, and certain industrial processes have been tied to occupational cancer. Exposure to cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogens) may cause mutations that allow cells to grow out of control, causing cancer. Carcinogens in the workplace may include chemicals like anilines, chromates, dinitrotoluenes, arsenic and inorganic arsenic compounds, beryllium and beryllium compounds, cadmium compounds, and nickel compounds. Dusts that can cause cancer leather or wood dusts, asbestos, crystalline forms of silica, coal tar pitch volatiles, coke oven emissions, diesel exhaust and environmental tobacco smoke. sunlight; radon gas; and industrial, medical, or other exposure to ionizing radiation can all cause cancer in the workplace. Industrial processes associated with cancer include aluminum production; iron and steel founding; and underground mining with exposure to uranium or radon. Shift work, which can disturb the circadian rhythm, has also been identified as a risk factor for some forms of cancer, in particular for breast cancer.

Other factors that play a role in cancer include:

  • Personal characteristics such as age, sex, and race
  • Family history of cancer
  • Diet and personal habits such as cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption
  • The presence of certain medical conditions or past medical treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation treatment, or some immune-system suppressing drugs.
  • Exposure to cancer-causing agents in the environment (for example, sunlight, radon gas, air pollution, and infectious agents)

Occupational cancers

Common cancers and their exposures and occupations include:

Cancer Source Examples of Occupations
Bladder Benzidine, beta-naphthylamine,

4-aminobiphenyl, arsenic

Rubber, leather, paving, roofing,

printing and textile industries; paint/

dyeing products; chimney sweeping;

machinists; hairdressers and barbers;

truck drivers

Kidney Cadmium, trichloroethylene, herbicides,

wood dust

Painting; metalworking; petroleum,

plastics, and textile industries

Larynx Asbestos, wood dust, paint fumes Metal working; petroleum, rubber,

plastics, and textile industries

Leukemia Formaldehyde, benzene, ethylene

oxide, pesticides

Rubber manufacturing; oil refining;

shoemaking, funeral embalming

Liver Arsenic, vinyl chloride, aflatoxins Plastic manufacturing
Lung Radon, secondhand smoke, asbestos,

arsenic, cadmium, chromium compounds,

diesel exhaust, sulfur mustard

Rubber manufacturing, paving,

roofing, painting, chimney sweeping,

iron and steel foundry work, welding

Lymphoma Benzene, 1, 3-butadiene, ethylene

oxide, herbicides, insecticides

Rubber manufacturing, painting,

hairdresser or barber

Mesothelioma Asbestos Mining, railroad, automotive,

plumbing, painting and construction

industries; factory workers

Nasal cavity and sinus Mustard gas, nickel dust, chromium

dust, leather dust, wood dust, radium

Textile and baking industry, flour

milling, nickel refining, furniture and

cabinet builders, shoemaking

Skin Arsenic, coal tars, paraffin, certain oils,


Chimney sweeping; outside jobs that

involve a lot of sun exposure


An estimated 48,000 cancers are diagnosed yearly in the US that come from occupational causes; this represents approximately 4-10% of total cancer in the United States. It is estimated that 19% of cancers globally are attributed to environmental exposures (including work-related exposures).


Many occupational cancers are preventable. Personal protective gear, workplace controls, and worker education can prevent exposure to carcinogens in the workplace. Tobacco smoking has also been shown to increase the risk of work-related cancers; decreasing or abstaining from smoking can decrease cancer risk.

Agencies like the US Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration have developed safety standards and limits for chemical and radiation exposure.