Act today to prevent occupational cancer tomorrow

Within the framework of the publications of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health aimed at disseminating information for safe work, today we collect the content of the brochure aimed at providing data in order to prevent occupational cancer .

What is occupational cancer?

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in today’s society. Cancer is a complex disease, the appearance of which may be due to one or more of the following factors:

  1. Way of life: food, tobacco, alcohol …
  2. Environmental factors: pollution …
  3. Family or genetic factors.
  4. Labor factors: chemical, physical, biological …

Due to this multifactorial nature, it is difficult, even impossible, to know to what extent each factor has contributed to an individual case.

However, two things are clear:

  1. People who are in contact with carcinogens in their work are much more likely than the general population to contract certain types of cancer.
  2. Occupational cancer normally takes many years to manifest (up to 40 years), so in general cases appear when the worker has changed jobs and even when he / she is already retired. That is why it is so difficult to link the cancers of the elderly with jobs they had many years before and that may have been one of the causes of their current illness.

Hence, it is very important to avoid exposure to carcinogens at work . In this way thousands of future cancers would be avoided.

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How can I come into contact with carcinogens?


In the case of chemical substances, the most frequent is that the contact is established by inhalation, breathing the substances in the form of dust or vapors produced during their use.

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Contact can also occur through the skin when touching pieces, rags or other objects impregnated with the carcinogenic substance.


Although less frequent, ingestion is also possible, by putting dirty hands in the mouth, for example.

How do carcinogens work?

When the carcinogenic substance has entered the body, either through the lungs, mouth or skin, it passes into the blood and from there it reaches the organs (lung, liver, kidney, urinary bladder …) where one day a professional cancer may develop.

What if I am in contact with a very small amount?

There is no safety level for carcinogenic substances. Even if you are in contact with very small amounts, there is a risk of getting cancer. That is why it is important to avoid all contact with carcinogenic substances.

Logically, the risk of contracting cancer will be the greater the more intense and prolonged the exposure to the carcinogenic substance.

Are there carcinogens in my work?

Although the most common carcinogens in the workplace are chemical substances, such as asbestos, benzene, chromates, trichlorethylene, wood dust and others, certain physical agents such as X-rays or ultraviolet rays also have carcinogenic effects. some biological agents, such as hepatitis B and C viruses.

To know if a chemical is carcinogenic, pay attention to what is indicated on the label of its container. If a substance is carcinogenic, one of the pictograms in the image will appear on its packaging.

Although since 2010 the labeling of chemical product containers with the currently valid hazard pictograms is mandatory, it is still possible to find many substances that were packaged previously and that, therefore, retain the old pictograms, even so many cans Chemical products such as bleaches do not put the name.

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Relationship of the current chemical hazard pictograms with the old ones

Image author Lorenzo Profe

And, in addition, some of the following security phrases :

  • R 40 – Possible carcinogenic effects.
  • R 45 – May cause cancer.
  • R 49 – May cause cancer by inhalation.
  • H 350 – May cause cancer.
  • H 351 – Suspected of causing cancer.

Reading the label is essential in any case.

And remember, occupational cancer can take many years to manifest normally (up to 40 years). That is why it is so important to take the proper prevention measures.

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