Is Your Job Making You Sick?
14 November 2012
A new study, funded by the Canadian Cancer Society, will examine the human and economic impact of workplace exposure to 44 known or suspected carcinogens and their links to 27 types of cancer. The study’s main goals are to quantify — for the first time — how serious the problem is in Canada by estimating the number of new cancer cases and cancer deaths that can be attributed to workplace factors, and also to weigh the economic impact.
With a $1-million grant from the Canadian Cancer Society, Dr Paul Demers will lead a cross-Canada team of scientists, epidemiologists and health economists.
“This is a unique opportunity for a multi-disciplinary team of experts to work together on cancer prevention,” says Demers. “At the end of the study we will have solid data which will ultimately help guide industry leaders and policy makers to decide where to change, strengthen or enforce regulations on workplace exposures in order to help prevent workplace-related cancers.”
Demers, Director of the Occupational Cancer Research Centre (OCRC), says the study will also help guide the decisions and practices of employees and employers. In addition, it will also raise awareness among physicians about the occupational causes of cancer, which could improve early recognition of the disease. The OCRC is jointly funded by the Canadian Cancer Society, Ontario Division, Cancer Care Ontario, and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. The OCRC is a unique partnership that unites research, healthcare, workplace safety, labour and industry groups.
This is the first Canadian study of its kind. While some other countries, such as Finland, have done similar studies, it’s not accurate to compare workplace carcinogens in one country to those in another for a variety of reasons. For example, compared to Finland, Canada has larger agriculture, mining and forestry industries, which lead to different types of exposures to carcinogens.
To conduct the study, researchers will evaluate a list of 44 known or suspected carcinogens, based on data compiled by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Among the exposures, the list includes:
- industrial chemicals, such as benzene, formaldehyde and 1.3-Butadiene (a widely used industrial chemical in the production of synthetic rubber)
- metals, such as chromium, nickel and arsenic
- other types of factors, such as sunlight, asbestos, paint, diesel fumes and shift work
In addition to estimate the number and proportion of cancer cases and deaths attributed to work exposure to carcinogenic agents and factors, the study’s experts will:
- estimate direct costs (e.g. medical care), indirect costs (e.g. lost work time) and quality-of-life costs of work-related cancers
- estimate the human and economic burden of occupational cancer by province, industry, sector and gender
- project these estimates into the future to examine potential benefits of prevention activities, such as toxic use reduction
The study, which will take four years to complete, will use historical data collected as part of the CAREX Canada project and the Canadian Workplace Exposure Database funded by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.
The Canadian Cancer Society’s Multisector Team Grants in Prevention Research were designed to encourage a more direct linkage between researchers and the work the Society does in advocacy and prevention. In the case of Demers’ study, there is great potential for the data to be used in a number of ways to create safer workplaces across Canada. Dr Mary Argent-Katwala, Director of Research at the Canadian Cancer Society, says: “These new prevention grants are a unique opportunity for the Society to use the findings to inform our advocacy and policy agenda. For example, the results of this study could be used for educational campaigns, advocacy activities to urge governments to enact prevention regulations, and to set priorities for our prevention activities.”
Demers’ grant is one of three new team prevention grants awarded by the Society. The other two grants are:
- Dr Joan Botoroff, UBC, Vancouver: $928,000 over 4 years to study how agencies can collaborate to reduce cancer rates in Northern BC, which has higher rates of smoking and obesity, and overall increased rates of cancer-related deaths than the rest of the province.
- Dr Jennifer O’Loughlin, CHUM, Montreal: $970,000 over 4 years to establish a smoking cessation intervention for youth in Quebec. The program will empower general practitioners and nurses to use brief interventions, regular follow-up counseling, and peer support to target novice smokers and prevent cancer incidence.
The Canadian Cancer Society is a national community-based organization of volunteers whose mission is the eradication of cancer and the enhancement of the quality of life of people living with cancer. When you want to know more about cancer, visit our website www.cancer.ca or call our toll-free, bilingual Cancer Information Service at 1 888 939-3333.