Occupational Exposure as a Cause of Lung Cancer

man with respiratory mask at work

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Occupation as a cause of lung cancer is common. It has been estimated that 13 to 29 percent of lung cancers in men are secondary to on-the-job exposure to chemicals and materials that increase the risk of lung cancer. Many of these exposures are preventable through awareness and taking appropriate precautions.

How Do I Know If Exposures at Work Can Raise My Risk?

Employers are required to provide Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS’s) on chemicals you may be exposed to at the workplace. It is important to take the time to read these and follow any safety recommendations that are suggested. That said, only two percent of chemicals used in commerce have been studied for carcinogenicity, that is their ability to cause cancer in humans. Though this is concerning, taking basic precautions could likely lower your risk considerably. When around chemicals, wearing gloves, ensuring proper ventilation, and using an appropriate mask are paramount. It is important to note that not all masks are created equally. Some exposures may be prevented with a simple dust mask, whereas others may require the use of a respirator to prevent a potentially toxic exposure.

The following lists of substances and occupations that could place you at risk are far from exhaustive but provide an overview of some of the more common exposures that are linked to lung cancer.

Occupational Substances 

  • Arsenic is involved in glassware production, ceramics, fireworks, textiles, and semiconductors)
  • Diesel fumes
  • Natural fibers — asbestos, silica, wood dust
  • Metals — aluminum, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium 
  • Radon
  • Reactive chemicals — bis(chloromethyl) ether, mustard gas, vinyl chloride
  • Second-hand smoke
  • Solvents — benzene, toluene

Occupations Associated 

  • Aluminum production
  • Asbestos workers
  • Bartenders
  • Ceramics
  • Coal gasification
  • Coke production
  • Chemists
  • Glass manufacturing
  • Painters
  • Printers
  • Masonry work
  • Metalwork (iron and steel foundry work)
  • Sandblasting
  • Rubber production
  • Truck driving
  • Uranium mining

What to Do If Your Employer Is Not Protecting You

Employers are required to provide Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for each chemical you may be exposed to at work. If these have not been provided for you, or if you feel your workplace is placing you at risk, help is available. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a 24-hour access line to report unsafe work practices at 1-800-321-6742.

Where to Go for More Information 

Several excellent sites are available that include databases on possible workplace exposures, as well as general safety information for you as an employee.

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