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The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that at least 200,000 people die every year from cancer related to their workplaces. Lung cancer, mesothelioma, and bladder cancer are among the most common occupational cancers. Every tenth lung cancer death is related to workplace exposures. At least 90,000 die each year from asbestos-related diseases. Thousands more die from leukemia caused by exposure to benzene and other solvents. WHO Director of Public Health and Environment, Dr. Maria Neira notes:
The tragedy of occupational cancer is that it takes so long for science to be translated into protective action. Known and preventable exposures are clearly responsible for hundreds of thousands of excess cancer cases each year. In the interests of protecting our health, we must adopt an approach rooted in primary prevention, that is to make workplaces free from carcinogenic risks.
Neighborhood Cancers from Nearby Carcinogenic Emissions
Workers are not the only people at risk from developing cancers from exposures to carcinogens. People living, working or going to school adjacent, nearby or downwind of major worksites using or emitting carcinogens are at risk of developing cancers. Chemical plants, rubber plants, refineries, and other sites using or making butadiene, benzene, vinyl chloride, arsenic, cyclophosphamide, benzo[a]pyrene, ethylene dibromide, or giving off fumes of the metals cadmium, nickel, and chromium. Significant radiation exposure can cause cancer quicker than almost any other carcinogenic exposure.
Known Human Carcinogens
Known human carcinogens include:
Numerous liquid and gaseous hydrocarbon products have been identified as causes of cancer, perhaps ranking behind only tobacco and asbestos products in number of suspected cancer victims. Among the hydrocarbon carcinogens, benzene has long been among the most widely recognized. It has been implicated as a cancer-causing in both the workplace and in neighborhoods adjacent or near facilities where it is used or produced. Benzene is known to cause leukemia. Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) is by far the most common leukemia. AML and its predecessor diseases are also the most commonly benzene-related cancers. Only exposure to cancer therapy by radiation or chemotherapy and radiation are more likely to result in AML than benzene exposure.
AML (Acute Myelogenous Leukemia)
Acute myelogenous leukemia is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow (the spongy tissue inside the bones where blood cells are made). Each word in the name for acute myelogenous leukemia provides us with some insight into the characteristics of the disease. “Leukemia” refers to the progressive proliferation (or spreading) of abnormal leukocytes found in hemopoietic (meaning related to the formation of blood cells) tissues.
In a long anticipated decision, the World Health Organization at the June 2007 meeting of its International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) working group reclassified 1,3-butadiene from a probable human carcinogen to a proven human carcinogen, meaning it is indisputably known to cause cancer in humans. The International Agency for Research on Cancer is part of the World Health Organization. It was established in 1965, with the United States as both a founding and a continuous member country. IARC is headquartered in Lyon, France, and is the most prestigious scientific organization in the world with respect to causes of cancerr. It publishes a series of monographs which exhaustively review and evaluate all of the published literature for a particular chemical or industry. The monograph will then summarize IARC’s findings and classify the chemical or industry according to the following grouping:
IARC intends to update its website posting for its 1,3-butadiene monograph in the very near future, with a full disclosure of the data and a meaningful discussion for public reference at http://monograph.iarc.fr/. To date, IARC has identified approximately 400 agents as carcinogenic or potentially carcinogenic to humans. IARC had previously identified benzene as a Group 1 human carcinogen, as well as cigarette smoking and asbestos, and now butadiene has been added to that list.
IARC Identification of Cancer Causes
A major stated goal of IARC is the identification of causes of cancer, so that preventive measures may be adopted against such causes. IARC is different from other research institutes because it focuses its studies on human cancer and the relationship of man and his environment. This strong emphasis on cancer etiology (or, cause) has led the Agency to examine over 900 agents and exposures with the goal of unambiguously identifying the ones which cause cancer in humans. The examinations include laboratory investigations, epidemiological studies, and working group meetings.
Environmental Risk Factors for Cancer
IARC monographs identify environmental factors that can increase the risk of human cancer. These include chemicals, complex mixtures, occupational exposures, physical and biological agents, and lifestyle factors. Interdisciplinary working groups of expert scientists review the published studies and evaluate the weight of the evidence that an agent can increase the risk of cancer. Each monograph is very detailed and usually includes a brief description of the potential exposure, as well as information about the production, quantity and distribution of the carcinogen and about the studies of the carcinogen.
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