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doi:10.5271/sjweh.3879

Cancer incidence among seafarers and fishermen in the Nordic countries

by Ugelvig Petersen K, Pukkala E, Martinsen JI, Lynge E, Tryggvadottir L, Weiderpass E, Kjærheim K, Heikkinen S, Hansen J

Objectives Maritime workers may be exposed to several occupational hazards at sea. The aim of this study was to assess cancer incidence among seafarers and fishermen in the Nordic countries and identify patterns in morbidity in the context of existing studies in this field.

Methods A cohort of 81 740 male seafarers and 66 926 male fishermen was established from census data on 15 million citizens in the five Nordic countries. Using personal identity codes, information on vital status and cancer was linked to members of the cohort from the national population and cancer registries for the follow-up period 1961–2005. Standardized incidence ratios (SIR) were calculated applying national cancer incidence rates for each country and pooling results.

Results The overall incidence of cancer was increased among the male seafarers [SIR 1.22, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.19–1.23]. Significant excesses were observed for multiple cancer sites among the seafarers, while results for the fishermen were mixed. Lip cancer incidence was increased among both maritime populations. For mesothelioma (SIR 2.17, 95% CI 1.83–2.56 seafarers) and non-melanoma skin cancer (SIR 1.23, 95% CI 1.14–1.32 seafarers), incidence was increased among the seafarers.

Conclusion In our cohort, seafaring was associated with a higher overall incidence of cancer compared to the general population. While the majority of cancers could not be linked to specific occupational factors, increases in mesothelioma, lip and non-melanoma-skin cancer indicate previous exposure to asbestos, ultraviolet radiation and potentially also chemicals with dermal carcinogenic properties at sea.

This article refers to the following text of the Journal: 1992;18(4):217-224
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