Occupation as a Cause of Lung Cancer

Could My Job Put Me At Risk For Lung Cancer?

man with respiratory mask at work
Could your job raise your risk of lung cancer?. Stephen Pennells/Taxi/Getty Images

Occupation as a cause of lung cancer is common. It has been estimated that 13 to 29 percent of lung cancers in men are secondary to on-the-job exposure to chemicals and materials that increase the risk of lung cancer. Many of these exposures are preventable through awareness, and taking appropriate precautions.

How Do I Know if Exposures at Work Can Raise My Risk?

Employers are required to provide Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS’s) on chemicals you may be exposed to at the workplace.

It is important to take the time to read these and follow any safety recommendations that are suggested. That said, only two percent of chemicals used in commerce have been studied for carcinogenicity, that is their ability to cause cancer in humans. Though this is concerning, taking basic precautions could likely lower your risk considerably. When around chemicals, wearing gloves, ensuring proper ventilation, and using an appropriate mask are paramount. It is important to note that not all masks are created equally. Some exposures may be prevented with a simple dust mask, whereas others may require the use of a respirator to prevent a potentially toxic exposure.

What Are Some of the Exposures at Work That Could Cause Lung Cancer?

The following lists of substances and occupations that could place you at risk is far from exhaustive but provides an overview of some of the more common exposures that are linked to lung cancer

Occupational Substances Associated With an Increased Risk of Lung Cancer

  • Arsenic - arsenic is involved in glassware production, ceramics, fireworks, textiles, and semiconductors)
  • Diesel fumes
  • Natural fibers – asbestos, silica, wood dust
  • Metals – aluminum, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium 
  • Radon
  • Reactive chemicals – bis(chloromethyl) ether, mustard gas, vinyl chloride

Occupations Associated With an Increased Risk of Lung Cancer

  • Aluminum production
  • Asbestos workers
  • Bartenders
  • Ceramics
  • Coal gasification
  • Coke production
  • Chemists
  • Glass manufacturing
  • Painters
  • Printers
  • Masonry work
  • Metal work (iron and steel foundry work)
  • Sandblasting
  • Rubber production
  • Truck driving
  • Uranium mining

What Can I Do if My Employer is Not Protecting Me from Exposures?

Employers are required to provide Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for each chemical you may be exposed to at work. If these have not been provided for you, or if you feel your workplace is placing you at risk, help is available. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a 24-hour access line to report unsafe work practices at 1-800-321-6742.

Where Can I Go To Find More Information on Occupational Exposures?

Several excellent sites are available that include databases on possible workplace exposures, as well as general safety information for you as an employee.

  • NIOSH - The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health provides multiple databases regarding occupational safety, and includes a handy Pocket Guide to Chemical Exposures as well. NIOSH has a toll-free number for questions about occupational exposures at 1-800-356-4674.


Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Occupational Cancer. hhttps://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/cancer/

De Matteis, S. et al. Impact of occupational carcinogens on lung cancer risk in a general population. International Journal of Epidemiology. 2012. 41(3):711-21.

Field, R., and B. Withers. Occupational and Environmental Causes of Lung Cancer. Clinical Chest Medicine. 2012. 33(4):10.1016/j.ccm.2012.07.001.

Robinson, C. et al. Occupational lung cancer in US women. 1984-1998. American Journal of Industrial Medicine. 2011. 54(2):102-17.

The National Library of Medicine. Haz-map.com.  http://www.haz-map.com/cancer.htm

U.S. Department of Labor. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. https://www.osha.gov/