Lung Cancer Exposure & Potential Workplace Risks
November is the Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and there is no better time to examine your workplace for lung cancer risks.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has developed a list of factors believed to cause lung cancer. These factors include radon gas, tobacco smoke, inhaling chemicals or minerals, such as asbestos, arsenic, chromium, nickel, soot or tar may, over time, increase a person’s risks of developing lung cancer1.
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What is Occupational Cancer?
About 10,000 cancer cases in Canada are due to exposure to cancer-causing substances in the workplace each year2.
Occupational cancer is cancer that is caused wholly or partly by exposure to a carcinogen at work. A carcinogen is a substance, mixture or agent that can cause cancer, or it increases the risk of developing cancer. Known carcinogens include viruses (e.g., Hepatitis B), hormones (e.g., estrogens), chemicals (e.g., benzene), naturally occurring minerals (e.g., asbestos), alcohol, and solar radiation (e.g., ultraviolet radiation). In the US, research shows that the amount of cancer related to occupational exposure varies with the type of cancer. The most common types of occupational cancer are lung cancer, bladder cancer and mesothelioma3.
Typical Occupational Hazards
The most common and typical occupational hazards that can lead to lung cancer include but are not limited to:
- Painters – especially those working in construction and repair jobs, are at greater risk for developing lung cancer, according to a reported multinational study. Although the study found additive risk in painters who smoked, the results also showed that higher lung cancer risks were also present in painters who did not smoke4.
- Miners – Miners who work in dusty environments, are believed to have an extremely high risk of developing lung cancer. For example, more than 10 percent of America’s coal miners with 25 or more years of experience have black lung disease5.
- Men with the heaviest and most prolonged exposures, such as railroad workers, heavy equipment operators, miners, and truck drivers, have been found to have higher lung cancer death rates than unexposed workers6.
- Military veterans who have served in war zones are at great risk of cancer due to the chemicals they’ve been exposed to. Compared to the general population, military service members are 25 percent more likely to receive a lung cancer diagnosis7.
- Firefighters – in the US firefighters have a 9 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14 percent higher risk of dying from cancer than the general U.S. population, according to research by the CDC/National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH). The cancers mostly responsible for this higher risk were respiratory (lung, mesothelioma),GI (oral cavity, esophageal, large intestine), and kidney8.
Asbestos and Mesothelioma
Anyone who works with asbestos or is exposed to asbestos are also highly susceptible to developing cancers. Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that affects the lining of the chest and abdominal cavities. It is believed that at least 90% of mesothelioma cases are caused by exposure to asbestos or related materials. It has been found that people who have been exposed to asbestos are almost three times more likely to develop mesothelioma compared to those who have not been exposed to it. Mesothelioma is difficult to diagnose, as it tends to first develop many years after exposure, making it difficult for doctors to trace the cause of mesothelioma. Occupational exposure to asbestos is the strongest and most common risk factor for mesothelioma. The risk is related to how much asbestos you were exposed to and how long the exposure lasted. People exposed at an early age, for a long period of time and to greater amounts of asbestos are more likely to develop mesothelioma9.
Radiation of certain wavelengths, called ionizing radiation, has enough energy to damage DNA and cause cancer. Ionizing radiation includes radon, x-rays, gamma rays, and other forms of high-energy radiation10.
Radon exposure is, after tobacco smoke, the leading environmental cause of lung cancer death. Thus for nonsmokers, radon exposure is the leading cause of lung cancer death. Radon is estimated to cause between 3% to 14% of all lung cancers11. Radon is a radioactive gas that has no smell, colour or taste. Radon is produced from the natural radioactive decay of uranium, which is found in all rocks and soils. Radon can also be found in water.
Radon escapes from the ground into the air, where it decays and produces further radioactive particles. As we breathe, these particles are deposited on the cells lining the airways, where they can damage DNA and potentially cause lung cancer. Radon gas in the air breaks down into tiny radioactive elements (radon progeny) that can lodge in the lining of the lungs, where they can give off radiation. Miners in uranium, tin, silver, coal, and other types of underground mines may have increased radon exposure. The risk of lung cancer from radon exposure is estimated between 10 to 20 times greater for persons who smoke cigarettes as compared with those who have never smoked12.
If you live in an area of the country that has high levels of radon in its rocks and soil, you may wish to test your home for this gas. Home radon tests are easy to use and do not cost much.
Early detection is essential to successful treatment and management. The more you know and the earlier you detect potential cancers, the better your chances of survival. Cancer kills and life expectancy varies dramatically depending on the stage of the cancer and how fast it is caught. At BioMark, we believe that early detection of cancer increases the chance of being cured.
BioMark Diagnostics specializes in early detection of hard to detect and treat cancers through its patented liquid biopsy assays. BioMark Diagnostics’ patented liquid biopsy and metabolomic analysis is a simple, and accurate early-stage lung cancer detection solution. Such test is done on a sample of blood to look for cancer biomarkers, or metabolites, from a tumor that are circulating in the blood. A liquid biopsy may be used to help find cancer at an early stage. It may also be used to help plan treatment or to find out how well treatment is working or if cancer has come back.
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Cancer is too important to ignore. November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Share this article with someone you care about.
- Guha N, Bouaoun L, Kromhout H, et al. Lung cancer risk in painters: results from the SYNERGY pooled case–control study consortium. Occup Environ Med. Published online October 28, 2020. doi:10.1136/oemed-2020-106770
The science and understanding of cancer and cancer technologies is ever rapidly evolving. The information provided herein is our attempt to simplify and highlight current discoveries, developments, and understandings related to lung cancer. It is important that you seek proper medical advice or counsel from your physician or health provider.