Certain occupations put people at higher risk for developing brain cancer

May 13, 2001

New Haven, Conn. - Men employed as roofers or sheet metal workers, who work with rubber and plastic products, or are employed in cleaning businesses, among other occupations, are at higher risk of developing brain cancer, a Yale investigation shows.

Women are at higher risk of developing brain cancer if they are employed in agricultural services and farm occupations, work with apparel and textile products, in electric and electronic equipment manufacturing, and as waitresses, as well as other occupations.

"Brain cancer incidence and mortality have been increasing in many industrialized countries, particularly among elderly people," said Tongzhang Zheng, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at Yale School of Medicine and principal investigator of the findings published in a recent issue of the journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. "Improved diagnosis and access to medical care, genetic predisposition, and lifestyle factors, such as smoking, drinking alcohol and diet, are not enough to explain the increase."

"The major findings of this investigation were that an increased risk of brain cancer was associated with agricultural industry and farm occupations; industries producing rubber and miscellaneous plastic products; industries and occupations which have a potential for exposure to gasoline or solvents; industries producing apparel and other textile products; employment in electric services, and electrical and electronic equipment, plumbing, heating, and air conditioning, and sheet metal working industries," Zheng said.

The investigation includes 375 cases of brain glioma, a tumor of the neuralgia cells, as compared with 2,434 comparable persons who did not develop brain cancer.

Zheng said a significantly increased risk was observed among men working in plumbing, heating, and air conditioning; roofing, siding and sheet metal works; newspapers; rubber and plastic product manufacturing, particularly tires and inner tubes; miscellaneous manufacturing industries; electric services; wholesale trade of farm products; gasoline service stations, and the military. Also at significantly increased risk were workers in cleaning and building service occupations; miscellaneous mechanics and repair occupations, janitors and cleaners, especially those with more than 10 years of experience; financial officers; clergy; salespersons; guards; supervisors in construction and extractive occupations, and material moving equipment operators.

Women were at higher risk for developing brain cancer if they worked in the agricultural industry; the apparel and textile industry; electric and electronic equipment; department stores; other retail industries; sales persons; record clerks; waitresses, and farmers.

"An increased risk of brain cancer for workers in these industries could be due to their exposures to pesticides, solvents, dyes and formaldehyde, metal fumes, and other chemical or physical carcinogens, since some of which have been associated with brain cancer risk," Zheng said. He emphasized, however, that "more studies are needed because it could also be due to chance."

Yale University

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