Cancer Myths

 In 2022, Tip of the Week

What was the leading cause of death in the US in 2021? Close your eyes and guess. If you said it was COVID-19, you were really close. It came in 3rd. As usual, heart attacks caused the most deaths in 2021 with a little more than 659,000, see the statistic. Cancer was a close second at just over 608,500. COVID-19 caused around 400,000 fatalities.

Here’s another question for you. Of all those deaths attributed to cancer, what percentage is work-related? We’ll make this a multiple-choice question. Would you guess that the percentage of work-related cancer deaths is:

A. 42 %
B. 59 %
C. 24.7 %
D. 52.5 %

E. None of the above.

If you said “E,” you are correct. From an article on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website the likelihood of a cancer being caused by something work-related is less than 10%. You are more likely to be exposed to cancer when you are not at work.

Here is our last and probably the most important question relating to cancer. Asbestos is one of the most common cancer-causing materials found in workplaces. If you work with or around asbestos, does that mean you will get cancer? It does not. There are a lot of factors involved in how and why a known carcinogen (a material that can cause cancer) does or does not cause you to become a cancer patient. Factors to remember includes the following:

Route of entry: How you are exposed to a carcinogen is a factor. Some carcinogens are only inhalation hazards, meaning you must breathe them in. Others are only ingestion hazards, ones that you must swallow. Or you must touch them, a contact hazard. Knowing what the exposure method is for a carcinogen will also tell you how to protect yourself from that hazard.

Your history or genetic makeup: Is there something in your background that will help you to know whether you have a genetic predisposition to certain cancers? For example, did someone in your family have issues with skin cancer? If yes, then you would be wise to take more precautions when exposed to sunlight. Is there a history in your family of breast cancer? If that is the case, you may be working with your medical care provider to take measures to prevent getting breast cancer.

Dosage: An early Swiss physician, Paracelsus, said that it is the dose that makes the poison. Some carcinogens will not affect you in small doses. For example, benzene is a known carcinogen that is in many products you may be using daily. It is found in gasoline, some hair products, and is a commonly used propellant in some spray paints. You don’t get cancer from putting gasoline in your car. It is the dose, and the availability of other protections, including fresh air ventilation at the gas pump, that protects you.

How do you know what protection you should use to prevent a harmful exposure to a carcinogen at work? You have a good resource in the Safety Data Sheet. There are sections devoted to hazard information and precautionary statements (section 2), first aid measures (section 4), how to properly handle and store the material (section 7), what PPE to use (section 8), and more. Reading the SDS for any material you work around and/or with, is a good way to stay safe.

And remember that not all potential carcinogens should be avoided. We just mentioned sunlight. For some, this might be a risk, but overall sunlight is good for us. Other potential carcinogens could be good for you as well. Take tamoxifen, for example. It is a treatment for some breast cancers, which is also known to increase the risk of uterine cancer. If you have a question about a potential carcinogen beyond the information in your SDS, you can discuss it with a supervisor, physician, or find the chat feature on a reputable resource such cancer.org, or the CDC.

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