There are some occupational hazards (where you work) and environmental hazards (where you live) that can increase your risk of certain cancers.
On this page you will find information on:
Occupational cancer risks
Approximately 3.6 million Australians could be exposed to one or more carcinogens at work; this exposure is estimated to cause over 5000 new cases of cancer in Australia each year.
Occupational cancers are those that occur due to exposure to carcinogenic (cancer-causing) agents in the workplace. Such exposures include:
- Combustion products (e.g. diesel engine exhaust, second hand tobacco smoke)
- Inorganic dusts (e.g. asbestos, silica dust)
- Organic dusts (e.g. leather dust, wood dust)
- Metals (e.g. arsenic compounds, nickel compounds)
- Radiation (e.g. artificial UV radiation and UV radiation from the sun)
- Other industrial chemicals (e.g. benzene, aromatic amine dye exposure).
As of June 2016, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) had identified 198 known and probable cancer causing agents and circumstances; exposure to a number of these agents primarily occurs within the workplace. A study in 2012 considered 38 of these agents of high priority and specific to Australian workplaces. The list can be found in the Occupational Exposures to Carcinogens in Australia monograph, page 3.
All employers are required to manage known risks and hazards using the Heirarchy of Control. As an employee, ensure you follow required safety practices within your workplace and speak with a manager or supervisor if you feel your health and safety is at risk.
Workplace exposure factsheets for employees and employers
Cancer Council has developed fact sheets around various occupational carcinogens. These factsheets are two page resources designed for both employers and employees. They aim to provide information about some workplace cancer risks, what you can do about them, legal obligations and where you can go for more information.
For access to these fact sheets, other resources, more information or to share your story on workplace cancer please visit kNOw Workplace Cancer.
Workers’ compensation and the Deemed Diseases List
Most States and Territories in Australia have a ‘Deemed Diseases List‘ as part of their workers’ compensation system. This list is comprised of a list of diseases that have been deemed by an expert panel to be ‘work-related’.
The purpose of this list is to reverse the onus of proof when a workers’ compensation is made for a disease which appears on this list (i.e. the worker is not required to prove that an exposure at work caused their disease). The Deemed Diseases List helps to simplify the relevant workers’ compensation claims as it makes the assumption that there is a high likelihood that the disease in the worker was a result of an exposure at work.
You can find the list in the Deemed Diseases in Australia Report.
Any questions related to workers’ compensation should be directed to:
Environmental cancer risks
Potential environmental hazards that may occur in the home or public places include:
Second-hand smoke is the smoke that comes from a cigarette or other tobacco product that someone other than you is smoking and is a significant environmental risk. Second-hand smoke is a carcinogen, meaning it is known to cause cancer as it contains more than 7000 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer on their own There is no safe level of exposure to second hand smoke; it has been shown to be harmful even at low levels, including in outdoor areas.
Second-hand smoke is associated with a number of diseases and conditions in non-smokers, including lung disease, respiratory disease, worsening asthma, stroke and heart disease. In 2004-2005 about 141 Australian deaths were due to inhaling second-hand smoke.
Reduce your exposure to second hand smoke by:
- Keeping your house and car smoke free.
- Protecting children and babies from second hand smoke.
- Advocating for smoke-free spaces in your local community.
- Supporting smokers you know to quit.
Exposure to UV radiation from the sun is a common environmental cancer risk. In Queensland, UV radiation from the sun is strong all year round, even in winter.
Tips to reduce your UV radiation exposure:
- Stay SunSmart every day
- Create shade in your backyard
- Consider tinting windows on your house and cars
- Advocate for shade in public places in your local community (e.g. playgrounds, parks, recreational facilities).
Asbestos and DIY
In Australia, asbestos was mined and imported for use in the manufacture of a range of building products and other materials. When asbestos fibres are breathed in, they may remain deep within the lungs and can cause inflammation, scarring and increase your risk of a number of cancers including lung, mesothelioma, ovarian and larynx.
Homeowners may be exposed to asbestos fibres during accidental damage to asbestos-containing materials in the home, or as a result of the unsafe handling of asbestos-containing material during DIY home renovations.
To minimise your risk of exposure it is important to identify if and where any asbestos-containing products were used within the home. If you are unsure if your home contains asbestos download the free ACM Check app for your phone either from the App Store or Google Play. If you are considering a renovation that may involve you working with asbestos-containing material in your home take the time to complete the free kNOW asbestos in your home online eLearning module.
Removing asbestos safely can be a complicated process. For this reason it is best carried out by licensed professionals who have completed relevant training.
Contact Workplace Health and Safety Queensland for advice on identifying and managing possible risks.
The information available on this page should not be used as a substitute for advice from a properly qualified medical professional who can advise you about your own individual medical needs. It is not intended to constitute medical advice and is provided for general information purposes only. See our disclaimer.