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Identifying occupational carcinogens: an update from the IARC Monographs
  1. Dana Loomis,
  2. Neela Guha,
  3. Amy L Hall,
  4. Kurt Straif
  1. IARC Monographs Programme, International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon, France
  1. Correspondence to Professor Dana Loomis, International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon 69372, France; dploomis{at}unr.edu

Abstract

The recognition of occupational carcinogens is important for primary prevention, compensation and surveillance of exposed workers, as well as identifying causes of cancer in the general population. This study updates previously published lists of known occupational carcinogens while providing additional information on cancer type, exposure scenarios and routes, and discussing trends in the identification of carcinogens over time. Data were extracted from International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Monographs covering the years 1971–2017, using specific criteria to ensure occupational relevance and provide high confidence in the causality of observed exposure-disease associations. Selected agents were substances, mixtures or types of radiation classified in IARC Group 1 with ‘sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity’ in humans from studies of exposed workers and evidence of occupational exposure documented in the pertinent monograph. The number of known occupational carcinogens has increased over time: 47 agents were identified as known occupational carcinogens in 2017 compared with 28 in 2004. These estimates are conservative and likely underestimate the number of carcinogenic agents present in workplaces. Exposure to these agents causes a wide range of cancers; cancers of the lung and other respiratory sites, followed by skin, account for the largest proportion. The dominant routes of exposure are inhalation and dermal contact. Important progress has been made in identifying occupational carcinogens; nevertheless, there is an ongoing need for research on the causes of work-related cancer. Most workplace exposures have not been evaluated for their carcinogenic potential due to inadequate epidemiologic evidence and a paucity of quantitative exposure data.

  • cancer
  • occupational exposures
  • epidemiology

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt and build upon this work, for commercial use, provided the original work is properly cited. See: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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Footnotes

  • Contributors DL conceived the paper and wrote the first draft. NG did data analyses. ALH compiled exposure data. All authors contributed to generating and reviewing the data, producing tables and figures and revising the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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