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Cancer incidence among Danish seafarers: a population based cohort study
  1. L Kaerlev1,
  2. J Hansen2,
  3. H L Hansen3,
  4. P S Nielsen1
  1. 1Research Unit of Maritime Medicine at University of Southern Denmark, Esbjerg, Denmark
  2. 2Danish Cancer Society, Institute of Cancer Epidemiology, Copenhagen, Denmark
  3. 3Medical Office of Health, Vejle County, Vejle, Denmark
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr L Kaerlev
 Research Unit of Maritime Medicine at University of Southern Denmark, Oestergade 81–83, DK-6700 Esbjerg, Denmark; LindakFMM.SDU.DK


Aims: Seafarers aboard oil and chemical tankers may be exposed to many chemicals, including substances like benzene that are known to be carcinogenic. Other seafarers are exposed to engine exhaust, different oil products, and chemicals used aboard and some years ago asbestos was also used extensively in ships. The aim of this study was to study cancer morbidity among Danish seafarers in relation to type of ship and job title.

Methods: A cohort of all Danish seafarers during 1986–1999 (33 340 men; 11 291 women) registered by the Danish Maritime Authority with an employment history was linked with the nationwide Danish Cancer Registry and followed up for cancer until the end of 2002. The number of person years at risk was 517 518. Standardised incidence ratios (SIR) were estimated by use of the corresponding national rates.

Results: The SIR of all cancers combined was higher than expected: 1.26 (95% CI 1.19 to 1.32) for men and 1.07 (95% CI 0.95 to 1.20) for women. This was mainly due to an excess of cancer of the larynx, lung, tongue, mouth, pharynx, oesophagus, pancreas, kidney, urinary bladder, colon, and bone as well as skin melanomas among men (the three latter borderline significantly increased), and an excess of cancer of the lung, rectum, and cervix uteri among women. The differences in risk pattern for lung cancer between the different job categories among men ranged in terms of SIR from 1.2 (95% CI 0.9 to 1.7) (engine officers) to 2.3 (1.6 to 3.3) (engine room crew), and 4.1 (2.1 to 7.4) among maintenance crew. Non-officers had a 1.5 times higher lung cancer risk than officers. No increased occurrence of all lymphatic and haematopoietic malignancies combined was found for employees on tankers, but the number of cases was limited to a total of 7.

Conclusions: Danish seafarers, especially men, face an increased overall cancer risk, in particular a risk for lung cancer and other tobacco associated cancers.

  • DMA, Danish Maritime Authority
  • PAH, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon
  • SIR, standardised incidence ratio
  • seamen
  • cancer
  • epidemiology
  • occupational risk factors
  • social risk factors

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  • Competing interests: none declared.

  • Ethics approval: the study was made in accordance with the requirements of the Ethics Committees in Denmark.