November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month

19 Nov 2014

Dr. Paul Demers, Director of the Occupational Cancer Research Centre, has written a blog post to raise awareness about workplace exposures that can cause lung cancer. Read the full post below.


November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Canada for both men and women, with approximately 6,900 deaths expected in Ontario alone in 2014. When most people think about the causes of lung cancer, cigarette smoke is the only thing that comes to mind. While smoking is the main cause of lung cancer, there are also many other contributors that can cause lung cancer. These include things in the environment, such as outdoor air pollution and radon in homes, and occupational carcinogens, which are found in many workplaces.

The most common substances in Ontario workplaces that cause lung cancer are dusts and fibres like asbestos and silica, gases such as radon, metals like nickel and chromium, and complex mixtures like diesel engine exhaust. Reducing these exposures can help prevent lung cancer. At the OCRC, we research the causes of cancer in the workplace and try to identify the best means to control and reduce exposure to occupational carcinogens. We’re currently working on a project called the Burden of Occupational Cancer, funded by the Canadian Cancer Society, which looks at many causes of cancer in the workplace, including 12 established and five strongly suspected causes of lung cancer. The project will identify the number of cancers that are the direct result of workplace exposures and the economic impact of these cancers.

The Most Important Workplace Lung Carcinogens in Canada

Radon is the second most common cause of lung cancer in Canada after smoking. If radon is present in the soil, it can seep into buildings and collect in basements or confined spaces. Many people have their homes checked for radon, but it is also important to think about radon in your workplace. If you’re in a geographic area with naturally high radon concentrations and you work in a basement or below ground, such as in a mine, tunnel, or subway, you may be exposed to radon.

Asbestos is often mentioned in the news as the cause of mesothelioma, a cancer that develops in the protective lining of the body’s internal organs, but the most common cancer caused by asbestos is actually lung cancer. Asbestos causes an estimated one to eight lung cancers for every case of mesothelioma. Although less and less asbestos is now used in Canada, a great deal of it remains in existing building materials, such as insulation, and it can be released during activities such as maintenance, renovation and demolition.

Diesel engine exhaust is another common cause of lung cancer in Canada, and like radon, is considered both an environmental and an occupational carcinogen. According to CAREX Canada, approximately 900,000 people are exposed to diesel exhaust at work in Canada, including around 300,000 in Ontario alone. To reduce the chances of developing lung cancer from diesel exhaust, we recommend workers and employers follow these precautions:

  • Use electric engines, hybrids, or low-emission diesel engines
  • Perform regular maintenance of diesel engines
  • Run diesel engines outdoors when possible and ventilate indoor work areas
  • Seal cracks or holes in the bodies of vehicles with weather stripping to prevent exhaust from getting into the cabin
  • Use equipment cabs with filtered air
  • Use catalytic converters, tailpipe exhaust extraction systems, and filters attached to tailpipes
  • Keep idling time to a minimum
  • Wear gear, such as respirators and eye protection to prevent exposure to diesel exhaust