Occupation and Cancer Risk

occupational cancer Unfortunately, it is not always easy to establish a link between occupation and cancer risk. A small percentage of chemicals used in commerce have been tested for their potential to cause cancer. It is estimated that between 4%-10% of cancers in the United States are caused by occupational exposure. But, the risk of developing cancer is influenced by a number of factors that are not clearly understood. Read on to find out more.

General Risk Factors for Cancer

According to the National Institute for Occupation Health and Safety (NIOSH), a person’s risk for developing cancer may be influenced by a combination of the following factors:
  • Personal characteristics, such as race and gender
  • Family history of cancer
  • Lifestyle factors and personal habits, such as diet, smoking , and alcohol consumption
  • Certain medical conditions
  • Exposure to cancer-causing agents in the environment
  • Exposure to cancer-causing agents in the workplace
These factors may act together or in sequence to cause cancer.

Establishing a Link

Sometimes, a number of people in a workplace will develop cancer within a relatively short period of time. However, this does not necessarily indicate that there is a cancer risk in the workplace. Cancer is a common disease, affecting over a million Americans each year.In an effort to identify the role of possible occupational factors and cancer, scientists investigate cancer clusters. Clusters are defined as an unusual concentration of cancer cases in a defined area or time, according to NIOSH. Clusters may have a common cause or may be the coincidental occurrence of unrelated causes.When evaluating a cancer cluster in the workplace, scientists tend to look for the following:
  • Several cases of the same type of cancer, especially if it is not common in the general population
  • The presence of a known or suspected cancer-causing agent, and, the occurrence of types of cancers that have been linked with exposures to these agents in other settings
  • Past exposures to possible cancer-causing agents in the workplace (often difficult to document)
Investigating cancer clusters poses many challenges for researchers. It is often difficult to make a clear connection between cancer and environmental or workplace factors.

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