Prostate Cancer and the Workplace

NNL Health

NNL HealthWorkplace Impacts Prostate Cancer

THUNDER BAY – Healthbeat – While we often dream of vacations and trips off in faraway places or free time spent with family and friends we actually spend relatively little time doing those beloved activities. The reality is that we spend most of our adult lives in the workplace. 

While the average worker is aware of the acute occupational risks as they carefully avoid the fork lift as it drives by in the construction site, fewer workers are aware of the more insidious risks within the workplace. One area that is getting attention is the possible link between the workplace and prostate cancer, the most common cancer among males. 

The risk factors that have the strongest association to prostate cancer are age, race and a family history of prostate cancer. Weaker evidence exists for diet, hormones, and physical activity. Occupation has emerged as a controversial risk factor. Employment in trades, transportation, and farming industries have shown to be associated with a significant increase in prostate cancer cases. Fewer cases have been reported in the education, government, religious or social sciences sectors.

These studies have motivated researchers to find common exposures or characteristics among these working environments. Common chemicals currently being investigated include: cadmium, arsenic containing herbicides, fertilizers, and diesel exhaust. However, there is conflicting research and no consensus that indicates a direct cause to prostate cancer. Diesel exhaust exposure, for example, does not show a significant increase in cancer cases in the industrial environment.

Some theories suggest that whole-body vibration has been implicated as another risk factor. Testosterone levels have been shown to increase with whole-body vibration which puts men at a higher risk of prostate cancer. Research confirms that heightened testosterone levels are a risk factor. However, this theory is still novel and requires further research.

Overall, it is known that certain work environments put men at a higher risk for prostate cancer than others. The exact cause of this correlation is unknown but it is thought to be either a chemical or physical factor. 

Nearly half of prostate cancer patients show no symptoms. Those that do have symptoms usually present with urinary retention, back or leg pain, or blood in the urine. Symptoms of advanced prostate cancer include weight loss, anemia, bone pain, spinal cord compression, and leg swelling. 

When prostate cancer is suspected your physician may do a number of tests and examinations. This may involve the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing in the blood, digital rectal examination, and a prostate biopsy.

This area of research continues to be controversial but it is still prudent to limit exposures in the workplace and follow safe work practices.

Anna and Zsolt are students of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM).  If you require more information on this or any other topic concerning occupational health, please contact the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers Inc. (OHCOW) at 705-523-2330, toll free at 1-800-461-7120, or visit

By:  Anna Ludwa, HBHSc

M. D. Candidate, Class 2016

Northern Ontario School of Medicine, East Campus


By Zsolt Toth, RD, MPH, CDE

NOSM MD Class of 2016

Northern Ontario School of Medicine, East Campus



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