Experts warn of impact of ‘dramatic decline’ in work cancer studies

As evidence establishes occupational exposures are responsible for a substantial proportion of all cancers, studies to identify the groups at risk and the substances causing problems are drying up, top occupational cancer experts have warned.

Four papers in the August 2018 issue of the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine highlight a problem that could ‘stall’ efforts to reduce the burden of occupational cancer, they say.

A study led by Claire Marant Micallef identified 94 ‘pairings’ of occupational exposures with cancer sites, but for almost a quarter of these (21) too few studies had been done to determine what proportion of these cancers are related to work.

The study by Dana Loomis and his co-authors identified 23 different cancer types associated with workplace exposures, and 12 occupational agents associated with more than one cancer.

James Jung and his team noted that while it was possible to identify occupational associations, analyses based on job titles and industries were often too broad to make an accurate quantification of the extent of the risk to those in the precise jobs experiencing the carcinogenic exposures.

In an accompanying commentary, occupational cancer researchers Aaron Blair and Lin Fritschi warn the situation could be getting worse, noting there is already evidence “of a curtailment on occupational cancer research efforts.” They point to a survey of 15 major journals that found the number of articles on occupational cancer “declined dramatically from around 80-90 per year from 1991-2003, to about 30 in 2009.”

They conclude: “It is vital that we continue to undertake high-quality epidemiological studies to provide the information necessary to identify new occupational carcinogens, to fully understand the risks from currently identified workplace hazards and to reduce the burden of work-related cancer.”

Blair and Fritschi note: “In particular, we need to address agents that are used in low-income and middle-income countries, where we would expect high exposure levels.”

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