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Occupation as a Cause of Lung Cancer

Could My Job Put Me At Risk For Lung Cancer?


Updated June 09, 2014

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Occupation as a cause of lung cancer is common. It has been estimated that 13 to 29% 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 2% 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.

What Are Some of the Exposures at Work That Could Cause Lung Cancer?

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

Occupational Substances Associated With an Increased Risk of Lung Cancer

  • Diesel fumes
  • Natural fibers – asbestos, silica, wood dust
  • Metals – aluminum, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, nickel
  • Radon
  • Reactive chemicals – bis(chloromethyl) ether, mustard gas, vinyl chloride
  • Second-hand smoke
  • Solvents – benzene, toluene

Occupations Associated With an Increased Risk of Lung Cancer

  • Asbestos workers
  • Bartenders
  • Ceramics
  • Chemists
  • Glass manufacturing
  • Painters
  • Printers
  • Masonry work
  • Metal work (iron and steel foundry work)
  • Sandblasting
  • Truck driving
  • Uranium mining

What Can I Do if My Employer is Not Protecting Me from Exposures?

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 Can I Go To Find More Information on Occupational Exposures?

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


Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Updated 09/07/12. http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Occupational Cancer. Accessed 02/12/12. http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/cancer/

De Matteis, S. et al. Impact of occupational carcinogens on lung cancer risk in a general population. International Journal of Epidemiology. 2012. 41(3):711-21.

Robinson, C. et al. Occupational lung cancer in US women. 1984-1998. American Journal of Industrial Medicine. 2011. 54(2):102-17.

The National Library of Medicine. Haz-map.com. Updated 06/28/09. http://www.haz-map.com/cancer.htm

U.S. Department of Labor. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 10/16/08. http://www.osha.gov/

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