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Occupational cancer under spotlight

New research suggests work-related cancer contributes to 5000 annual deaths in Australia.

Carcinogens in the workplace are causing about 5000 cancers each year and medical experts say not enough is being done to reduce the risks.

In an article for the Medical Journal of Australia published this week, Professor Lin Fritschi and co-authors said it was difficult to estimate the exact number of cases that could be attributed to cancer-causing agents in the workplace.

"(But) it has been estimated that about 5000 cancers a year are caused by occupational exposures," they said.

Despite the statistics, however, little progress had been made on Australia's regulatory approach to the health hazard.

"Work-related cancer attracts considerable public and media attention, but has received limited attention from researchers and policymakers in Australia, particularly in comparison to other cancers, such as those related to tobacco use and sun exposure," the authors write.

In Australia, they said little was being done to identify and reduce occupational carcinogens.

Nor are people being informed of the risks.

"Poor awareness of exposure to occupational carcinogens and a lack of attribution of cancer to occupational causes ... limits opportunities to reduce the likelihood and extent of exposure.

"In addition, potentially legitimate compensation cases are not pursued."

To prevent future workplace cancers, the authors said more data needed to be collected.

Australian health and occupational bodies must also study who is being exposed to carcinogens, the industries in which they occur and the concentration and frequency of exposures.

"In addition, audits and reviews should be instigated to determine what is being done to introduce best practice to Australia," they said.


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