On the Job Exposure to Paint Increases Risk of Bladder Cancer

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People who are exposed to paint on the job, including painters, artists, decorators and other workers, appear to have an increased risk of bladder cancer according to a pooled analysis conducted by researchers at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France. Previous studies have also linked paint to an increased risk of lung cancer.

Neela Guha PhD MPH and colleagues analyzed the results of 41 studies (more than 2900 incident cases of bladder cancer) and reported findings in the August issue of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

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The researchers found that painters and other individuals reporting an occupation that exposed them to paint were 25% more likely to develop bladder cancer, even when risk factors such as smoking status and other occupational exposure were controlled. And the longer the duration of exposure to paint, the greater the risk. Those who had worked as a painter for more than 10 years were more likely to develop bladder cancer than those who were exposed for less than 10 years.

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The elevated risk of cancer was magnified in women, although researchers are not sure that women actually have a higher risk. “The relative risk in women may appear higher because they have a lower background bladder cancer than men,” they wrote.

The IARC has classified exposure to paint as “carcinogenic to humans.” The specific chemicals in paint that are responsible for the increase in cancer risk have not been identified, although Dr. Guha notes that paint exposes people to some of the same aromatic amines found in cigarette smoke.

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Bladder cancer is the 9th most common cancer worldwide and the 6th most common in the United States. More than 330,000 new cases are diagnosed each year with an annual death toll of 130,000.

Jessica Harris, Cancer Research UK’s health information officer, said, “It is important to follow health and safety rules at work, which are designed to protect workers from exposure to harmful substances. However, it’s also important to remember that smoking is the single biggest risk factor for bladder cancer, causing about two-thirds of all cases of the disease.”

Source reference:
Guha N, et al "Bladder cancer risk in painters: a meta-analysis" Occup Environ Med 2010; 67: 568-573.

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