Occupational Health

Skin cancer, ultraviolet radiation and occupational health

Non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) is the most common form of cancer in fair-skinned populations, globally. Exposure to solar UV radiation (UVR), classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a group 1 carcinogen, is the leading cause of NMSC worldwide.

While a clear association between solar UVR exposure, skin cancer, and recreational outdoor activities has been established, it is only quite recently that research has been focusing on the long-term impact of occupational UVR exposure with regard to developing NMSC. Recent meta-analyses have shown an at least twofold, or even higher, risk of developing NMSC in outdoor workers compared to the general population.

To date, very few countries recognise occupational skin cancer by UVR as an occupational disease. Yet, even in those countries that do, patients with skin cancers related to chronic occupational solar UVR exposure mostly do not benefit from recognition because of lack of notification and under-reporting. Hence, attention on occupational UVR NMSC is still surprisingly low, and a quite neglected field of attention of policy-makers. For that reason, in the last years, the WHO Intersun Project has put a focus on the occupational health risks by UVR. In accordance with this activity, WHO and International Labor Organization (ILO) are currently undertaking worldwide systematic reviews on prioritised ten occupational risk factors, including occupational exposure to solar UVR, as UVR is likely to account for a highly considerable disease burden. The WHO ICD 11 allows for more detailed coding for NMSC and for its occupational causation, to help reveal its true epidemiology.

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