What is occupational cancer?

We are resolute in understanding the causes of work-related cancer and to identifying what can be done to reduce the burden of these diseases on society.
Each year there are probably more than 700,000 deaths from work-related cancers around the world, mostly lung cancers and other respiratory tumours. The main causes are asbestos, dust containing crystalline silica, diesel engine exhaust particulate, and a number of other hazardous agents. The main employment sectors impacted are construction and manufacturing.

In developed countries, these hazardous exposures are decreasing over time because of stricter laws and better control of work processes. However, in developing countries workplace exposure to carcinogenic substances are generally less well controlled and the risks may be very high.

Our research:

We develop research to understand which workplace agents cause cancer and how to intervene to reduce risks.

We undertake a wide range of research related to workplace cancer: from studies to characterise exposure of people to carcinogens to epidemiological investigations in populations exposed to carcinogenic substances.  We have provided estimates of the number of cancer deaths associated with work activities to help governments develop appropriate policy initiatives, and we have completed high profile reviews of the evidence for the carcinogenicity of workplace exposures.

Our cancer research is funded by governments, industry, and charitable organisations. 

We have expertise in:

  • assessment of exposure to evaluate cancer risks for workers
  • design and conduct of occupational epidemiological studies
  • estimation of cancer burden at a national and international level
  • investigation of cancer clusters, i.e. unexplained incidence of cancer in specific workplaces
  • review of the published scientific literature for causation of cancers by work 

Our scientists are international experts in cancer epidemiology and cancer burden estimation. We have carried out numerous studies in working populations to determine whether there is an increased risk of death or cancer incidence. We have particular expertise in assessing exposure in these types of study, which may require special techniques to assess historic working conditions.

Key projects 

  • Investigation of the cancer risks in the British rubber manufacturing industry
  • A review of the impact of shift-work on cancer
  • Mortality among hard metal production workers
  • Occupational Ill-health in the Singapore construction sector:  cancer and non-malignant respiratory diseases

Sponsors we have worked for 

  • Cancer Research UK
  • British Health and Safety Executive 
  • IOSH
  • International Tungsten Industry Association
  • Workplace Safety and Health Institute, Singapore
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