Would you like to read a great summary of all the newest and best data on occupational cancer risks? Would you like to know what percentage of cancer deaths would not have occurred but for occupational exposures? Would you like to see which risks cause the most deaths? If so, read this month's British Journal of Cancer and its special supplement "Occupational Cancer in Britain" (100% open access).
Here are some highlights:
Occupational cancers are responsible for far more deaths than workplace accidents. Overall about 5.3% of all cancer deaths nationwide can be attributed to work.
Exposures are down but lots of people are still exposed to levels of carcinogens estimated to increase risk. For some forms of cancer, e.g. lung, the web of workplace risk is extraordinarily complex.
Among women a surprising number of cancer deaths are attributable to things you might not think of as occupational exposures (e.g. breast cancer due to night shift work).
The GI cancer burden is low (especially for vinyl chloride and TCE); painters seem to be most at risk.
Blood cancer deaths due to occupational exposures to benzene, butadiene, etc. are very low (note the latency period JKH).
Blame wood dust before formaldehyde when considering nasopharyngeal cancers.
Asbestos, silica, diesel engine exhaust and mineral oils (untreated/mildly treated) rank 1, 2, 3 and 4 respectively for occupational respiratory cancers.
Skin cancer deaths due to occupation are rare and sunlight causes more of them than mineral oils and PAHs combined.
For urinary tract cancers mineral oils and diesel engine exhaust top the list.
Dioxin and non-arsenical insecticides combined are estimated to have caused fewer than two dozen deaths from brain, bone, soft tissue and thyroid cancers.
As you might suspect, construction, mining and manufacturing is estimated to produce the vast majority of occupational cancer deaths.
Bottom line: excess cancer deaths divided by exposure (risk) times estimated exposure = occupational cancer deaths. Nothing earthshaking. Just a sort of accounting. Nevertheless, the estimated attributable fraction of deaths due to occupational exposures drawn from the calculation is certainly sobering. If the risks in the U.S. are similar to those in Britain our deaths from occupational cancers approach 40,000 annually.