Occupational carcinogens

More than 40 agents, mixtures and exposure circumstances in the working environment are carcinogenic to humans and are classified as occupational carcinogens (Siemiatycki et al., 2004). That occupational carcinogens are causally related to cancer of the lung, bladder, larynx and skin, leukaemia and nasopharyngeal cancer is well documented. Mesothelioma (cancer of the outer lining of the lung or chest cavity) is to a large extent caused by work-related exposure to asbestos.

Occupational cancers are concentrated among specific groups of the working population, for whom the risk of developing a particular form of cancer may be much higher than for the general population. About 20–30% of the male and 5–20% of the female working-age population (people aged 15–64 years) may have been exposed to lung carcinogens during their working lives, accounting for about 10% of lung cancers worldwide. About 2% of leukaemia cases worldwide are attributable to occupational exposures1.

In Canada, occupational cancer is the leading cause of workplace fatality. In 2010, there were 244 accepted work-related fatality claims, compared to 89 claims for traumatic injuries and disorders. Approximately 71% of these claims were the direct result of asbestos exposure2.


1. World Health Organization. (2015). Cancer Prevention. Retrieved July 2015 from http://www.who.int/cancer/prevention/en/

2. Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC). National Work Injury Statistics Program (NWISP). 1997 – 2010 data years, extracted March 12, 2012.