WHO: Firefighters, Shiftworkers, Painters Face Elevated Cancer Risks

Working as a firefighter is possibly carcinogenic to humans, and doing shiftwork that involves circadian disruption probably is; working as a painter just flat is carcinogenic. So says a group of two dozen scientists from 10 countries convened by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is the World Health Organization's cancer research agency. These three occupations involve complex exposure patterns that make it difficult to attribute risk to specific factors, says the group, whose findings are being published in abbreviated form in the December issue of The Lancet Oncology. Full results will be published next year as volume 98 of the IARC Monographs series.

Occupational exposure to painters has been classified since 1989 as carcinogenic to humans, but this new evaluation further links painting specifically to lung cancer and bladder cancer. The new evaluation also suggests that maternal exposure may be associated with childhood leukemia. It is important that further studies be conducted in this area to confirm whether this risk is real and to identify precautionary measures that are appropriate to consider, the group says.

The report is IARC's first evaluations of shiftwork and firefighting. Epidemiological studies--involving mainly nurses and flight attendants--have found that long-term nightworkers have a higher risk of breast cancer risk than women who do not work at night. Meanwhile, epidemiological studies of firefighters have likewise noted excess cancer risks compared with the general population. Consistent patterns are difficult to discern due to the large variations in exposure across different types of fires and different groups of firefighters, the group says, but relative risks were consistently increased for three types of cancer: testicular cancer, prostate cancer, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

"Because there is credible evidence linking these occupations with increased risks of cancer, it is important that further studies be conducted to better identify what it is about such occupations that may increase the risk of cancer so that preventive measures can be implemented to avoid such risks," concluded IARC Director Dr. Peter Boyle. For more information, visit www.iarc.fr/ENG/Press_Releases/pr180a.html.

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