Occupational Cancers: Risks of Asbestos in the Workplace

2 Min Read

a group of construction workers in a construction zone

It’s hard to believe that employers would expose their people to environments that are known to cause cancer, yet it happens in workplaces across America every day.

Companies expose their employees to known occupational carcinogens (cancer-causing substances), putting those people at risk of cancer. No matter how loyal or dedicated their workforce may be, some employers, unfortunately, put their profits above their people.

Did you know

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that more than 200,000 people in the developed world die each year from cancer caused by their workplace.

The International Labor Organization considers occupational cancer the single biggest killer of employees in most countries.

What Is Occupational Cancer?

Occupational cancer is any form of cancer that is caused by a person’s work environment. Many types of cancer, like mesothelioma, are known to be caused by exposure to certain substances. These forms of cancer can be prevented by minimizing or removing contact with carcinogenic substances.

Top Occupational Cancers

Several common types of cancer are known to be caused by occupational exposure, at least some of the time.

The most common occupational cancers are:

  • Lung
  • Mesothelioma
  • Leukemia
  • Bladder
  • Kidney
  • Liver
  • Non-melanoma skin cancer
  • Sinonasal
  • Nasopharyngeal
  • Laryngeal

The most common carcinogens are smoke, benzene, and asbestos in the workplace, but there are hundreds of products that can put workers at risk. Most Americans would be surprised to learn how many carcinogens exist and the extent of risky occupations for occupational cancer.

The following chart demonstrates a few of the causes and at-risk occupations for each of the most common occupational cancer types.

Cancer TypeExample Occupational CarcinogensExample At-Risk Occupations
LungAsbestos, Metals, Soot, Coal-Tar Pitch, Diesel Fumes, Sulfur Mustard, Ionizing Radiation, Second-Hand Tobacco Smoke, Welding Fumes (and many more)Commercial Painters, Roofers, Chimney Sweeps, Foundry Workers, Rubber Manufacturing, Pavers, Radiologists, Medical Workers
MesotheliomaAsbestosShipyard Workers, Asbestos Miners, Construction Workers, Military Vets, Textile Workers, Masons
LeukemiaCytotoxic Drugs, Herbicides, Benzene, Ethylene Oxide, Formaldehyde, Ionizing RadiationAgriculture & Field Workers, Construction Workers, Animal Processing, Food Production
BladderArsenic, Aromatic Amines (Paint, Hair Dyes), Plastics, Metals, Tobacco Smoke, Non-Tobacco Smoke, Vehicle ExhaustHairdressers, Painters, Rubber Makers, Commercial Drivers
KidneyTrichloroethylene (Solvent, Degreaser), Cadmium, Paints, Mineral Oils, BenzeneRubber Workers, Painters
LiverVinyl chloride, Arsenic, Trichloroethylene, Perchloroethylene (Dry Cleaning, Degreaser), PCBs/Man-made Chemicals, DDT (Insecticide)Dry Cleaners, Chemical Workers, Plastics Workers
Non-Melanoma Skin CancerSolar Radiation, UV Radiation, Coal Tar Pitch, Mineral OilsField Workers, Miners, Masons, Manicurists, Firefighters
Sinonasal and NasopharyngealFormaldehyde, Cadmium, Nickel, Wood & Wood Dust, Leather DustShoemakers, Carpenters, Woodworkers, Welders
LaryngealSilica, Soot, Diesel Fumes, Live Animals, Chromium, NickelMechanics, Construction Workers, Drivers, Cement Workers

While the chart above shows the wide reach of occupational carcinogens, it is by no means complete. There are thousands of carcinogens and countless occupations that put workers at risk on a regular basis.

With so many cancers directly linked to common occupational hazards, employers should always take the necessary precautions to protect their staff. It is employers' responsibility to educate their employees of any potential risk and then reduce that risk through proper preventative measures.

What Cancer Clusters Can Tell Us About Health Risks

Cancer clusters occur when numerous people within a single area or occupation are diagnosed with cancer, indicating a group of people who are at higher risk of developing cancer. When workers within a profession or workplace all report the same type of cancer, it is likely that those people were exposed to the same environmental hazard.

Researchers can use cancer clusters to help identify specific carcinogens and expand the medical community’s understanding of occupational cancer.

Exposure to Asbestos in the Workplace

Once carcinogens are identified, they can be removed from the workplace, and laws or environmental regulations may be put into place. However, these regulations can take time and, in many cases, rely on the employer to implement and enforce preventative action.

Carcinogens and asbestos in the workplace are dangerous, yet it continues to happen every day. Unfortunately, far too many employees are unaware of their environmental dangers and don’t realize their risk of developing cancer.

If you may have been exposed to a carcinogen such as asbestos in the workplace and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you deserve justice. Contact the Mesothelioma Veterans Center today and have your claim reviewed for free.

Veterans Support Team
Christopher Dryfoos PhotoWritten by:

Contributing Author

Christopher Dryfoos is a journalist and member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). As the grandson of the U.S. Navy’s first forensic pathologist, he aims to help veterans with mesothelioma access needed care.

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