Painting Trades Increase Risk of Cancer

On-The-Job Paint Exposure Ups Cancer Risk: Study

NEW YORK, Mar 13, 2002 (Reuters Health) - Men and women in the painting trades or who work in paint manufacturing may have an increased risk of cancer, depending on the job they do, according to the results of a large study conducted in Sweden.

The findings are published in the March issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

In 1989, a working group from the International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that painters face an increased risk of cancer, but that there was not enough evidence to determine whether working in paint manufacture also increased cancer risk.

To investigate, Dr. Linda Morris Brown of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, and her team used census and cancer registry data covering nearly the entire Swedish working population to assess cancer risk in tens of thousands of men and women employed in painting trades, and paint and varnish manufacturing.

"Most painters in Sweden worked in the building construction industry and were exposed to high levels of organic solvents, paint dust containing a variety of pigments, including lead and zinc chromate, and a variety of other inorganic dusts," Brown and colleagues note.

The researchers found that male painters and metal lacquerers had a small but significantly increased risk of lung cancer, while male artists were at higher risk of bladder cancer. And men who worked in paint or varnish plants faced a higher risk of pancreatic and lung cancer, as well as non-lymphocytic leukemia.

Women who worked with lacquer had an increased risk of esophagus, larynx and oral cavity cancers, while female glazers had an increased risk of developing oral cancers, the report indicates.

The investigators found higher rates of cancer among the women in their study than the men. "The reasons for the gender differences in risk are unclear, but exposure to solvents may be higher in women because of their greater fat depots available for storage or to variations in the ability to detoxify environmental carcinogens," the authors write.

Brown's team notes that their study had several limitations, including the fact that they were not able to control for study participants' cigarette smoking or alcohol use. Also, their information on people's job histories was incomplete and study participants lacked specific knowledge about the chemicals they were exposed to on the job, they point out.

"Our results are consistent with the report of the International Agency for Research on Cancer that classified painting as an occupationally related cause of cancer, and they provide additional evidence that the risk of certain cancers is increased by exposures in the paint manufacturing process," Brown and colleagues conclude.


Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2002;44:258-264.

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