Occupational hazard? Shift work may be a possible human carcinogen: Expert

Mumbai: City-based oncologists have expressed concern over the deaths of policemen due to various health issues, with cancer emerging as second on the list of killer diseases. Until five years ago, cancer was not in the picture, but since then, 78 policemen have succumbed to the disease.

“Around 10-15 people out of 100 are genetically inclined to cancer. The rest are victims of a sedentary lifestyle – lack of exercise, pollution and lack of nutritious food intake. It is high time we increase the availability and affordability of cancer treatment,” said a senior oncologist.

According to a recent survey, cancer cases and deaths in Maharashtra have gone up by 11,306 and 5,727 respectively — a collective increase of around 8 per cent — in the past three years. Also shocking is that nine per cent of the national total of cancer cases in the country have been recorded in Maharashtra.

"The statistics indicate we are now able to identify cases based on the specific types of cancer and more people are undergoing treatment,” said Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, head of the head and neck cancer department, Tata Memorial Hospital.

Dr Mukul Roy, consultant radiation oncologist, Jaslok Hospital & Research Centre, said police officers are exposed to a number of known or potential carcinogens and shift work has been linked with increased risks for prostate, breast, and colorectal cancer, as well as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that shift work is a probable human carcinogen and it is hypothesised that irradiation of localised tissues from radar devices may increase risks for leukemia, testicular, brain, eye and skin cancer,” said Dr Roy.

“Police often spend several hours per day driving or directing traffic in congested areas, resulting in exposure to carcinogenic airborne pollutants derived from motor vehicle exhaust, such as benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and persistent organic pollutants.

There is also evidence for dose–response with increasing years of police work. There should be more research undertaken to study the risks and prevalence of cancer in policemen,” he added.

Dose-response is explained as the measurement of the relationship between the quantity of a substance (the dose) and its overall effect (the response) on an organism. The response may shift dramatically with increase in dose.

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