A recent study from Imperial College London has revealed that nearly 10% of all cancer deaths are caused from workplace carcinogens (cancer-causers). Occupational cancer is one of the lesser-known cancer groups and refers to illnesses brought upon by past working conditions. While many people are well versed in the more publicized cancer research (breast, lung, prostate), most people are still uninformed about occupational cancer.
Even more surprising is that mesothelioma is the most common occupational cancer type, according to the study. Mesothelioma is a rare cancer of the lungs and abdomen caused by exposure to asbestos. Following mesothelioma in the study are lung and bladder cancer.
It has long been speculated that occupational cancer risks were higher than previously assumed (2-4%). The research team at Imperial College appears to have offered some concrete evidence that contradicts this narrative. Of the 8,000 deaths that occur yearly from occupational cancers, mesothelioma accounted for nearly 2,000.
Dr. Lesley Rushton of Imperial College suggested how she would improve industry-wide health and decrease carcinogen risks:
“I would start by looking at my industry and what out of there is likely to be the likely carcinogens and what does the data tell me about [occupational cancer]. I would think about what are the priorities, look at what measures you have already in place.”
While some have questioned the relevancy of a report from England as it relates American occupational hazards, it’s important to consider the sample size. America has five times more citizens than the UK, and a considerably larger military (a notable cause of asbestos exposure and mesothelioma, see our veterans page LINK). Additionally, there is an asbestos ban in the European Union (EU) and in the United Kingdom (UK), while the US has only partially banned the use of asbestos products. There has been a significant outcry calling for the total ban of asbestos use by mesothelioma advocates. One of the most recent ban petitions was brought forth by the non-profit Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), and other petitions may be found here:
Dr. Rushton also summed up support for changes in workplace cancer risks: “Thinking about the new generation, it’s very hard to say to the workforce it’s too late because of course it isn’t. We know for example, if you stop smoking your risk of smoking related disease goes down, so it’s not too late to help prevent some of these diseases.”
There are 3,000 known cases of mesothelioma in the US every year. Additionally there are countless undocumented or misdiagnosed cases with the vast majority coming from occupational asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma has long been in the shadows and ignored by many because of its ties to legal retribution, but the Imperial College study paints a picture of mesothelioma as a formidable player in the cancer world.
All workers should consider the risk of occupational hazards and not remain vigilant even though mesothelioma is rare. One of the only ways to combat mesothelioma is to recognize symptoms at an early stage, so if you or someone you love has been exposed to asbestos, take precautions. Review our mesothelioma symptoms page and seek medical attention to ensure your health.