Background: Prioritising control measures for occupationally related cancers should be evidence based. We estimated the current burden of cancer in Britain attributable to past occupational exposures for International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) group 1 (established) and 2A (probable) carcinogens.
Methods: We calculated attributable fractions and numbers for cancer mortality and incidence using risk estimates from the literature and national data sources to estimate proportions exposed.
Results: 5.3% (8019) cancer deaths were attributable to occupation in 2005 (men, 8.2% (6362); women, 2.3% (1657)). Attributable incidence estimates are 13 679 (4.0%) cancer registrations (men, 10 063 (5.7%); women, 3616 (2.2%)). Occupational attributable fractions are over 2% for mesothelioma, sinonasal, lung, nasopharynx, breast, non-melanoma skin cancer, bladder, oesophagus, soft tissue sarcoma, larynx and stomach cancers. Asbestos, shift work, mineral oils, solar radiation, silica, diesel engine exhaust, coal tars and pitches, occupation as a painter or welder, dioxins, environmental tobacco smoke, radon, tetrachloroethylene, arsenic and strong inorganic mists each contribute 100 or more registrations. Industries and occupations with high cancer registrations include construction, metal working, personal and household services, mining, land transport, printing/publishing, retail/hotels/restaurants, public administration/defence, farming and several manufacturing sectors. 56% of cancer registrations in men are attributable to work in the construction industry (mainly mesotheliomas, lung, stomach, bladder and non-melanoma skin cancers) and 54% of cancer registrations in women are attributable to shift work (breast cancer).
Conclusion: This project is the first to quantify in detail the burden of cancer and mortality due to occupation specifically for Britain. It highlights the impact of occupational exposures, together with the occupational circumstances and industrial areas where exposures to carcinogenic agents occurred in the past, on population cancer morbidity and mortality; this can be compared with the impact of other causes of cancer. Risk reduction strategies should focus on those workplaces where such exposures are still occurring.