Occupational cancer in Britain: Exposure assessment methodology

Martie Van Tongeren*, Araceli S. Jimenez, Sally J. Hutchings, Laura MacCalman, Lesley Rushton, John W. Cherrie

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    19 Citations (Scopus)


    To estimate the current occupational cancer burden due to past exposures in Britain, estimates of the number of exposed workers at different levels are required, as well as risk estimates of cancer due to the exposures. This paper describes the methods and results for estimating the historical exposures. All occupational carcinogens or exposure circumstances classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as definite or probable human carcinogens and potentially to be found in British workplaces over the past 20-40 years were included in this study. Estimates of the number of people exposed by industrial sector were based predominantly on two sources of data, the CARcinogen EXposure (CAREX) database and the UK Labour Force Survey. Where possible, multiple and overlapping exposures were taken into account. Dose-response risk estimates were generally not available in the epidemiological literature for the cancer-exposure pairs in this study, and none of the sources available for obtaining the numbers exposed provided data by different levels of exposure. Industrial sectors were therefore assigned using expert judgement to 'higher'- and 'lower'-exposure groups based on the similarity of exposure to the population in the key epidemiological studies from which risk estimates had been selected. Estimates of historical exposure prevalence were obtained for 41 carcinogens or occupational circumstances. These include exposures to chemicals and metals, combustion products, other mixtures or groups of chemicals, mineral and biological dusts, physical agents and work patterns, as well as occupations and industries that have been associated with increased risk of cancer, but for which the causative agents are unknown. There were more than half a million workers exposed to each of six carcinogens (radon, solar radiation, crystalline silica, mineral oils, non-arsenical insecticides and 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo- p-dioxin); other agents to which a large number of workers are exposed included benzene, diesel engine exhaust and environmental tobacco smoke. The study has highlighted several industrial sectors with large proportions of workers potentially exposed to multiple carcinogens. The relevant available data have been used to generate estimates of the prevalence of past exposure to occupational carcinogens to enable the occupational cancer burden in Britain to be estimated. These data are considered adequate for the present purpose, but new data on the prevalence and intensity of current occupational exposure to carcinogens should be collected to ensure that future policy decisions be based on reliable evidence.

    Original languageEnglish
    JournalBritish Journal of Cancer
    Issue numberSUPPL. 1
    Publication statusPublished - 19 Jun 2012


    • carcinogens
    • exposure
    • occupation

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Cancer Research
    • Oncology


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