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Work related bladder cancer problem in NZ

Work related bladder cancer problem in New Zealand

A link between bladder cancer and certain occupations has prompted a warning from the Occupational Safety and Health Service (OSH) of the Department of Labour.

Preliminary results released today of research undertaken by OSH has shown that there are cases of drivers and engineering/metal workers in New Zealand whose bladder cancer is likely to have been caused by their jobs.

From January 2001, OSH has investigated the occupational history of all cases of bladder cancer notified to the NZ Cancer Registry, for people aged up to 70 years.

It has been estimated from overseas data that some 8% of all cancers are due to occupational causes. The figure rises to about 25% for one specific cancer, bladder cancer.

A total of 123 cases of bladder cancer have so far been assessed (32 female, 91 male), and the project is continuing to interview subjects as their consent process proceeds.

An expert panel established by OSH has determined that 33 (3 female, 30 male) of the 123 cases of bladder cancer (27%) have been engaged in occupations known from research to cause bladder cancer, as follows:

* Truck and other vehicle drivers 10 cases

* Engineering/metal workers 7 cases

* Farmers/orchardists/horticulture 4 cases

* Painter/furniture finishers 3 cases

* Textile workers (1 male, 2 female) 3 cases

* Plastics manufacture 2 cases

* Hairdresser (male) 1 case

* Analytical chemist 1 case

* Retail sales (male) 1 case

* Telephonist (female) 1 case

"Because occupational cancers by definition are preventable, OSH has elected to issue a warning to employees in these and other occupations, before the completion of the project," says Dr Evan Dryson, OSH Departmental Medical Practitioner.

"There are precautions that can be taken to help minimise the risk.

"For example, there is good research evidence linking truck (and other vehicle) driving with bladder cancer. There appears to be higher risks associated with exposure to diesel fumes, but non-diesel truck drivers are also at risk, due to traffic fumes in general. Two of the cases were railway locomotive drivers who were also exposed to fumes from burning coal. It has also been postulated that insufficiently frequent emptying of the bladder may predispose to cancer of the bladder."

OSH recommendations

Truck and other vehicle drivers

OSH recommends that vehicle drivers, and particularly long distance drivers, pay attention to the following preventive actions:

* make sure that engines are well maintained

* make sure that there are no leaks of fumes into the cab

* make sure that cabs are well ventilated when in fresh air, but sealed when in heavy traffic

* do not unduly prolong bladder emptying periods.

Engineering/metal workers

The risk in these occupations is from exposure to cutting and lubricating oils and fluids, and specifically from inhalation of fine oil mists.

OSH recommends:

* good shielding of equipment and machinery to avoid oil mist escape into the atmosphere. * shielding of the face by means of a visor or respirator suitable for oil mists.


Research suggests that the hazard may be from exposure to pesticides and insecticides, and perhaps herbicides. OSH recommends:

* wearing of appropriate respiratory protection and protective clothing

* good spraying and application technique to avoid drift and contamination.

Painters/furniture finishers, textile workers, plastics manufacture, hairdressers, analytical chemists

These occupations all have varying degrees of exposure to solvents, pigments and dyes, or other carcinogenic chemicals. OSH recommends:

* adequate ventilation of work area

* adequate cleaning of work area

* good application technique to avoid contamination

* wearing of respiratory protection and protective clothing if appropriate.

Retail sales and telephonists

Although research has shown a link with these occupations (and particularly if for 10 or more years) the cause is not immediately apparent. It has been postulated that second-hand cigarette smoke, environmental pollutants and insufficiently frequent emptying of the bladder (due to the "trapped" nature of the job) may be factors in causation. OSH recommends:

* good ventilation of the work area

* bladder emptying periods not unduly prolonged.

For further information contact:

Dr Evan Dryson, OSH Departmental Medical Practitioner, Tel 09 525 0268 or 09 625 0400, Mobile 021 301 250

Madeleine Setchell, Business Adviser-Public Relations, OSH, Wellington. Tel 04 915 4390 Mobile 027 4463 538,

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