Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate


BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 07 September 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:615
  1. C A Veys
  1. C A Veys is senior research fellow in occupational medicine at School of Postgraduate Medicine, University of Keele.

    The first report of cancer caused by occupational exposure was in 1775 by Percival Pott, a British surgeon who described scrotal cancer in boy chimney sweeps. A century later, in 1895, Rehn, a German surgeon working in Frankfurt, treated a cluster of three cases of bladder cancer in workers at a local factory producing aniline dyestuffs from coal tar.

    Occupational cancer is any malignancy wholly or partly caused by exposures at the workplace or in occupation. Such exposure may be to a particular chemical (such as β-naphthylamine), a physical agent (such as ionising radiation or a fibre like asbestos), a biological agent (such as hepatitis B virus), or an industrial process in which the specific carcinogen may elude precise definition (such as coke production).

    About 4% of all cancer deaths in people aged over 15 years may have an occupational cause. This translates into over 3000 male deaths in England and Wales from potentially preventable malignancies. The proportion occurring in women is probably less because of their lower potential for exposure.

    Of all the occupationally related diseases, cancer evokes particular concern and strong emotions, because of the opportunity afforded for attribution, blame, and compensation. On the other hand, occupational cancers have unique potential for prevention.

    Foundry workers may be exposed to a complex mixture of carcinogenic agents in fumes.

    The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) was set up within the World Health Organisation in 1971 to assess whether individual agents, mixtures, and occupational exposures have carcinogenic potential for humans. Since 1972 the agency has published 63 monographs covering more than 700 such evaluations. Today, some 65 agents and occupational environments are regarded by IARC as established human carcinogens. Over 50 are listed as probably carcinogenic, and about 300 are thought to be possibly carcinogenic.

    Characteristics of occupational cancer Mechanisms

    Cancer induction is a …

    View Full Text

    Log in

    Log in through your institution


    * For online subscription