4 Aug, 2023

What Professions Are at the Highest Risk for Workplace Cancer?

Author Todd A. Strong
Welder working at a site. What Professions Are at the Highest Risk for Workplace Cancer
Welder working at a site. What Professions Are at the Highest Risk for Workplace Cancer

Many professions have a high risk of workplace cancer, including flight attendants, pilots, night shift workers, and others who spend more time in hazardous work environments. Learn about the specific occupations that pose the highest risk of work-related cancers and the different ways to reduce that risk.

Jobs That Have a High Risk of Cancer

Some jobs come with a higher risk of workplace cancer than others. The following are some of the professions with higher cancer risks:

Flight Attendants

Flight attendants and other aircrew face higher cancer risks because of their environment. The main reason for this is the higher levels of ionizing radiation in the air, along with a potentially disrupted circadian rhythm, as aircrew often work varying and long hours.

Some types of cancer associated with aircrew according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) include:

  • Skin cancer — Melanoma and other types of skin cancers are more likely to develop in aircrew than in the general populace.
  • Kaposi and non-Hodgkin lymphoma — Flight attendants also have a higher risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Kaposi sarcoma, with male flight attendants more likely to develop these cancers if they are infected with HIV or AIDS.
  • Breast cancer — Women flight attendants are also more likely to develop breast cancer than women in other occupations.


Like flight attendants and other aircrew, pilots see an increased risk of skin cancer and other types of cancers. The specific reason isn't known, but, as mentioned, two major risk factors could include disrupted circadian rhythms and increased exposure to ionizing radiation.

Night Shift Workers

Studies have found that night shift workers are more at risk of developing certain types of cancer because of disrupted circadian rhythms. Night shift workers need to adjust to late work hours and suffer from changes in their daily routines that put them at risk of health issues.

One of the main reasons for this risk is the fact that the body needs light during the day to stimulate the parts of the brain that keep us active and aware, while helping us regulate our appetite. At night, the darkness causes the pineal gland to produce melatonin, which makes us sleepy. Night shift workers don't benefit from this same cycle, as their schedules are essentially reversed, and their melatonin levels decrease.

The disruption of the circadian rhythm can lead to increased cancer risk through the reduction of melatonin, which is a hormone that can slow and stop the growth of tumors and cancer cells. Generally, poor health resulting from circadian rhythm disruption can also lead to an increased risk of workplace cancer.

Rubber Manufacturing Jobs

Workers in the rubber manufacturing industry also face an increased risk of work-related cancers. Products such as rubber gloves, tires, and others require manufacturing processes that produce a variety of carcinogenic chemicals that workers suffer exposure to on a regular basis.

The chemical-tainted dusts and vapors that workers inhale can lead to different types of cancer, including:

  • Stomach cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Lung cancer
  • Leukemia

Additionally, some chemical compounds produced during the manufacturing process can enter the body through the skin, requiring workers to wear sufficient skin protection in addition to breathing devices.

Construction Workers

Construction workers often experience dangerous levels of asbestos exposure, especially when remodeling or renovating with older buildings that use asbestos for insulation. Many workers could also develop asbestos-related illnesses years after heavy or regular exposure, even though asbestos no longer regularly appears in new construction.

There are several illnesses related to asbestos exposure, including mesothelioma, lung cancer, and gastrointestinal cancer. If you have developed any of these illnesses as a current or former construction worker, you may be able to build a case and recover compensation with the help of a workers' compensation lawyer.

Agricultural Workers

Agricultural work comes with risks that can increase the likelihood of workplace cancer, including exposure to carcinogenic elements like fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides, and engine exhaust, among other substances.

Some of the cancers that can affect agricultural workers include leukemia and lymphoma, along with prostate cancer in men and skin cancer and multiple myeloma in women.

Nail Salon Workers

The chemicals used in nail salons contain carcinogens that can cause cancers of the nose, blood, skin, or lymphatic system. These chemicals include Benzene and Formaldehyde, along with other types of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Additionally, UV light used for curing or drying nails can also lead to an increased risk of skin cancer.

Nail salon workers can remain safer on the job by wearing proper protective equipment, including face masks, gloves, and long-sleeved shirts that limit exposure to UV light and chemicals.


Firefighters also see an increased risk of workplace cancer because of their exposure to the smoke that fires generate. Firefighters may either inhale this smoke or get exposure through the skin, which can lead to the development of cancers, including lung cancer, leukemia, prostate cancer, and esophageal cancer.

The risks associated with smoke exposure make it critical for firefighters to wear proper equipment and engage in other practices that limit exposure. For instance, firefighters must wear breathing devices and masks in areas with heavy smoke, and they must wear protective gear that covers the skin. Also, firefighters must generally avoid breathing large amounts of smoke and undergo decontamination when finished with a job.


Mechanics often experience exposure to two main types of chemicals: Benzene and asbestos. Benzene is a carcinogenic chemical in gasoline that can cause different types of cancer, including leukemia. Meanwhile, clutches and brake linings often consist of asbestos, with asbestos fibers potentially getting into the air when mechanics replace or repair these systems.

Office Workers

Sitting in one place for most of the day can also be unhealthy and lead to serious illnesses. Some studies have concluded that people who sit for more than eight hours every day have a greater risk of developing cancers and other health issues. In fact, being stationary all day can be as detrimental to your health as smoking or overeating.

Some health risks that can come with office work include high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, and increased body fat in the waist area.


Like construction workers and mechanics, miners could sustain asbestos exposure in the workplace, but they can also suffer exposure to other dangerous substances on the job. For example, miners could see a higher cancer risk due to exposure to radon and uranium, with potential cancers including stomach cancer, mesothelioma, and brain cancer.

How to Reduce the Risk of Job-Related Cancers

While it may be impossible to entirely avoid the issues that can cause cancer in these and other professions, it is possible to reduce the risk of developing cancer with the proper measures.

If you are in a job that requires you to be around potentially dangerous chemicals and substances, you should wear personal protective equipment (PPE) that can limit exposure. This equipment could include protective gear like gloves, clothing that fully covers the skin, and face masks.

If you spend a lot of time in the sun during the day at your job, you can also take some time to get out of the sun when possible or wear sunscreen regularly. Clothing that covers the skin could also give you some much-needed protection throughout the day.

Are you in an office job or another occupation that requires you to sit for much of your shift? Take some time to stand or go for a walk periodically throughout your shift.

In addition to these job-specific practices, developing and maintaining a generally healthy lifestyle can also help lower your risk of workplace cancer in Illinois. There are plenty of measures you can take to improve your health, including getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, getting enough exercise, avoiding smoking, and limiting alcohol consumption.

What to Do if You Develop a Work-Related Illness

While filing a workers' compensation claim is often easy to do with a work-related injury, it's often more complicated when workplace cancer or other job-related illnesses develop. It can be challenging to prove that the illness resulted from work, but the right steps can help you develop a claim to recover compensation, even if your illness developed years after exposure.

The following are some steps to take if you want to file a claim for workplace exposure leading to cancer or another illness:

Get Medical Attention

As soon as you develop symptoms of an illness, seek treatment from a qualified medical professional. A doctor can diagnose your condition and put you on the path to treatment, whether the treatment entails taking medication or undergoing therapies or procedures.

Depending on the nature of your illness, a doctor could also refer you to a specialist, such as an expert with experience dealing with toxic exposure in the workplace.

Report the Illness to Your Employer

Once you have received a formal diagnosis from a medical professional, you should report the illness to your employer. The employer may then begin gathering the necessary forms that allow you to file a workers' comp claim.

If you are retired or your illness otherwise arises from work under an employer you no longer work for, you can consult a workers' comp attorney to discuss a potential case.

File Your Workers' Comp Claim

If you're still with your current employer, you can begin filing a workers' compensation claim with the employer and the Workers' Compensation Commission. The sooner you file your claim, the better your chances are of avoiding missing the deadline for your case and recovering compensation for your illness and resulting damages.

Gather Evidence Linking the Illness to Your Job

To support your claim, you can collect evidence that develops in your case. Examples of this evidence could include medical records and bills, doctors' opinions, medication, and details about working conditions that could have led to the illness.

Speak With a Workers' Compensation Attorney

One of the best ways to get started with a successful workers' compensation case is to consult with a workers' compensation attorney who has experience handling cases involving work-related illnesses. This attorney can work with you to determine how to link your workplace cancer or another illness to your job and collect sufficient evidence to support your claim.

Workers' comp attorneys know how to navigate these types of claims and can help you increase your chances of getting full compensation. If you have a loved one who died because of his or her work-related illness, a lawyer may also be able to help you file a workers' compensation death claim.

Having an attorney by your side can ultimately give you some peace of mind as you recover and spend time with your loved ones while building a case. In the process, you may be able to recover different types of damages, including temporary or permanent disability, along with compensation for medical care and treatment.

A workers' compensation lawyer can also help build cases involving work-related injuries, and you may be able to file a third-party personal injury claim or lawsuit in addition to a workers' comp claim, depending on the circumstances of your case.

Take the Right Steps After Developing a Work-Related Illness

Firefighters, construction workers, aircrew, and office workers are among the many professionals with the highest risk of developing a job-related cancer. With the help of a workers' comp lawyer and the right approach to building a workers' comp case, it's possible for victims of these illnesses to build a successful claim and recover total compensation for their illness. 

About The Author

Photo of Todd A. Strong
Illinois workers’ compensation and personal injury lawyer Todd A. Strong is the founder of Strong Law Offices in Peoria, Illinois. Todd brings considerable legal knowledge, experience, and skill to the table to ensure injured victims throughout the state are treated with respect, dignity, and fairness.