Some jobs are just obviously dangerous. If you spend your days climbing into burning buildings, chasing bad guys, or driving in traffic, your health risk while on the clock goes up significantly compared to the average worker. However, other jobs have more hidden but equally sinister side effects. For most employees, there’s only a slim chance of having a gun pointed in your direction at work. But your job’s cancer risk could be equally as threatening.
With the increase of safety regulations at state and federal levels over the past few decades, the rate of workplace-related cancers has gone down significantly, the American Cancer Society reports. Only about 4% of cancer patients in the United States can trace the origin of the disease to occupational exposure to cancer-causing substances, or carcinogens. However, those carcinogens can sometimes take decades to surface, meaning people who worked in various industries 40 years ago might just now be reaping the consequences of being exposed to certain toxins.
Even though organizations, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, now regulate exposure to toxins more carefully, accidents on the job or lax adherence to the rules can still put workers at risk for certain cancers. Pretty much every job comes with its own unique set of health risks, but these particular occupations could lead to certain cancers, such as lymphoma, leukemia, and other types.
Let’s take a look at the 15 jobs that put you at a higher risk of cancer.
1. Rubber manufacturing
Rubber manufacturing might be a holdout from the industrial days of old, but we still need people working in factories to create automobile tires, rubber gloves, rubber bands, and other products. Rubber is made with myriad chemicals, and the process exposes workers to vapors, dusts, and chemical byproducts that evidently pose serious health risks.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, several studies have shown “excess deaths” from health issues, such as bladder cancer, stomach cancer, and lung cancer. The American Cancer Society adds leukemia and lymphoma to that list, making jobs in the rubber industry some of the most exposed to carcinogens. Part of the issue, the CDC reports, is these toxins can be absorbed through the skin, not just through inhalation.
Next: Working outside may not be so great
2. Agricultural jobs
Working the land to produce a crop and feed yourself and others has an appealing sound to it, but the hazards of a job in the agriculture industry are all too real. Women working in agricultural roles had a 35% higher risk of getting breast cancer, one study found. Another report showed women also had a higher risk of lung cancer, likely due to increased exposure to industrial chemicals, secondhand smoke, and even radon.
According to Time, one Australian study concluded agriculture was in the top five occupations for cancer risks in the country. Frequent exposure to engine exhaust, pesticides, fertilizers, and other elements were thought to play a key role in the high incidents of lymphoma, leukemia, and several other cancers.
Next: Hairdressers and barbers
3. Hairdressers and barbers
Hairdressers might frequently nick their fingers with razor-sharp shears, but the real issue in hair salons and barbershops is the hair dyes. According to the National Cancer Institute, roughly one-third of women over the age of 18 and a tenth of men use some form of hair dye, which includes the solutions found in professional salons.
One study published in 2009 found hairdressers and barbers have a significantly higher rate of contracting cancers of the bladder, larynx, and lungs. The National Cancer Institute points to the hair dye products as one likely culprit, especially because of the repeated exposure to the chemicals in the dyes over prolonged periods of time.
Automobile mechanics have dirty, greasy jobs, but the grime is more than surface level. Asbestos is still sometimes used with brake linings and clutch configurations because of its heat-resistant qualities. But the asbestos fibers can be released into the air — and mechanic’s lungs — when those parts begin to disintegrate or are replaced.
Asbestos is the leading cause of mesothelioma, a particularly nasty form of cancer. That’s why, among other regulations, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires mechanics to use special procedures for brake and clutch repairs. This is especially true for shops that work with more than five such repairs per week.
On top of the asbestos danger, mechanics often come into contact with petrol — either in repair work or even to clean their hands. Petrol contains benzene, which is a recognized cause of certain cancers, such as leukemia, and some studies have linked a higher risk of those cancers to mechanics as a result.
Next: Construction workers
5. Construction workers
Construction workers face numerous dangers in their jobs, including a cancer risk. Asbestos is sometimes still found in older buildings, so remodeling jobs can be dicey until it’s confirmed asbestos isn’t inside the structure where crews are working. Painting crews and others related to the construction industry are also at risk.
Next: Manicurists and pedicurists
6. Manicurists and pedicurists
The nail salon industry recently faced intense scrutiny when several damning reports showed workers developed a litany of ailments, including miscarriages, respiratory problems, skin issues, and, yes, cancer. Lymphoma and multiple myeloma are just a couple of the cancers that are more likely in cosmetologists across the board, probably from exposure to the harsh chemicals used for cleaning, painting, and hardening nails.
Of all the chemicals that cause health concerns, formalin (which is used to harden nails) and titanium dioxide (used in polishes and in the powder for artificial nails) are two of the most problematic. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration also notes formaldehyde, used in polishes and hardeners, is a known carcinogen. Wearing facial masks is imperative, and decent ventilation in the shops is also important, the Environmental Protection Agency cautions.
Next: Plastics workers
7. Plastics workers
Plastics are used in myriad ways, including replacing rubber when possible. Unfortunately, plastics manufacturing also comes with its own set of cancer risks. According to the American Cancer Society, workers in the plastic industry are more at risk for liver, kidney, and larynx cancers because of exposure to substances, such as wood dust, cadmium, and various other toxic fumes.
Not only are miners exposed to asbestos, but underground workers are also more likely to come in contact with uranium and radon, which can lead to a higher risk of cancer. It’s been proven even living in close proximity to mines can lead to a higher risk of numerous cancers, including brain cancer, mesothelioma, stomach and thyroid cancers, and more. The risk is that much more real for the people who actually work there.
Even when secondary causes, such as smoking, are controlled, increased exposure to diesel exhaust in a mining work environment can lead to a higher chance of developing lung cancer, as well, the National Cancer Institute found.
Similar to the toxins in plastics work, metalworking puts employees at a greater risk for kidney and larynx cancers, the American Cancer Society reports. Women who work in welding or other metal-related jobs are also at a 75% greater risk for developing breast cancer, Breastcancer.org reports.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the greatest dangers in metalworking in terms of cancer risks are with the fluids used to keep the metals from overheating and to remove minuscule metal bits that have been cut or ground away. The CDC acknowledges several improvements in the industry have decreased these risks, but inhaling fumes or having skin contact with these fluids is still a concern.
All in all, it’s safe to say many of the jobs on this list are blue collar positions. However, other professions, such as pilots and flight crews, are also at risk.
Several reports have found flight crews are at a higher risk than the general population for malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Researchers originally wanted to blame that on the idea that flight crews would use their free flights to travel to tropical (sunny) destinations, thus increasing their cancer risk. However, further study has proven the sun-laden vacations weren’t enough to account for the cancer rate.
Next: Radiology technician
11. Radiology technician
Radiology technicians perform a great service because they’re part of the team that helps diagnose serious diseases. However, they are putting their own health at risk to do this. Research shows radiology technicians are at an increased risk for thyroid cancer. The American Thyroid Association found a 1.5-fold rise in the risk of thyroid cancer among technologists who held patients for X-ray procedures at least 50 times.
Next: Chimney sweeper
12. Chimney sweeper
Employees who work to keep your chimney clean do so at a high price. Chimney sweepers are at an increased risk for skin cancer, according to American Cancer Society research. Arsenic, coal tars, paraffin, and overexposure to sunlight are often some of the culprits. Anyone who has a job that requires them to spend extended periods out in the sunlight should be concerned about elevated skin cancer risk.
Next: Chemical factory worker
13. Chemical factory worker
Those who work with dangerous chemicals on a daily basis are putting themselves at risk. More than 13 million people in the United States are exposed to chemicals at work that can be absorbed through the skin, according to the CDC.
People who work with dyes and paints, for example, are at a heightened risk for developing bladder cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Repeated exposure to benzidine, arsenic, and beta-naphthylamine are some chemicals that could lead to cancer with long-term use.
Next: Stressful jobs
14. Stressful jobs
Do you work in a career that fills you with anxiety and makes it tough to sleep at night? If so, you’ve got some changes to make. Jobs that are particularly stressful could also cause your cancer risk to increase.
A study published in Preventive Medicine found certain cancers have been linked to prolonged work-related stress in men. Those who had faced 15 to 30 years of constant work stress or more than 30 years of unrelenting stress had higher incidences of cancer. Lung, rectal, stomach, and colon cancers, as well as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, were the most common cancers.
Next: Jobs near a cancer cluster
15. Jobs near a cancer cluster
Some towns have areas where several people are diagnosed with cancer. This is often referred to as a “cancer cluster.” One of the most famous cancer clusters is in Toms River, New Jersey, which received national attention after a abnormally high number of children were diagnosed with cancer. If you work or live in an area known to be a cancer cluster, you might have a higher risk of getting cancer.
Additional reporting by Nikelle Murphy.