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May 28, 2010

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Britain’s occupational cancer burden

The burden of occupational cancer specifically on Great Britain has been determined for the first time.

A research project funded by the HSE aimed to produce an updated estimate of the current situation. The primary measure of the burden of cancer used in the project was the proportion of cases that would not have occurred in the absence of exposure (known as the attributable fraction, AF). This was then used to estimate the attributable numbers.

Estimation was carried out for occupational exposures classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as group 1 (established) and 2A (probable) carcinogens.

Among the most significant findings were the following:

  • 5.3 per cent (8023) of cancer deaths were attributable to occupation in 2005;
  • asbestos, shift work, mineral oils, solar radiation, silica, diesel-engine exhaust, coal tars and pitches, occupation as a painter or welder, dioxins, environmental tobacco smoke, radon, tetrachloroethylene, arsenic and strong inorganic mists each contribute more than 100 registrations;
  • industries/occupations with high cancer registrations include construction, metal-working, personal/household services, mining, land transport, printing/publishing, retail/hotels/restaurants, public administration/defence, farming and several manufacturing sectors;
  • 56 per cent of cancer registrations in men are attributable to work in the construction industry (mainly mesotheliomas, lung, bladder and non-melanoma skin cancers), and 54 per cent of cancer registrations in women are attributable to shift work (breast cancer).

The HSE points out that owing to several sources of uncertainty in the estimates, including exclusion of other potential carcinogenic agents, inaccurate or approximate data and methodological issues, the estimates are likely to be conservative.

The full report can be viewed at

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