Cancer, Reproductive, and Cardiovascular Diseases: Emerging Issues

cancer, reproductive, cardiovascular

Input: Emerging Issues

The following are brief descriptions of selected emerging scientific issues that are relevant to the NIOSH CRC.

Occupational Heart Disease

Little is known about occupational risks for cardiovascular disease. A few specific toxins encountered occupationally are known to affect the heart, most prominently carbon disulfide, nitroglycerin, and carbon monoxide. There is substantial evidence that environmental tobacco smoke, extreme heat, and extreme cold are risk factors for cardiovascular disease, and it is presumed that they are risk factors when they are encountered in the occupational setting. In addition, while the linkages are not yet understood, numerous studies show a relationship between heart disease and depression and exposure to stress at work. Other work-related exposures potentially related to cardiovascular disease include occupational noise exposure, shift work, and physical activity at work. Further epidemiologic research into all these areas is warranted. For more information, see NIOSH Occupational Heart Disease topic page.


The past decade has seen intense interest in developing technologies based on the unique behavior of nanometer-scale (nanoscale) structures, devices, and systems, leading to the rapidly expanding and highly diverse field of nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is somewhat loosely defined, although in general terms it covers engineered structures, devices, and systems that have a length scale of 1–100 nanometers. At these length scales, materials begin to exhibit unique properties that affect physical, chemical, and biological behavior. Researching, developing, and using these properties is at the heart of the new technology.

Occupational health risks associated with manufacturing and using nanomaterials are not yet clearly understood. Exposure to these materials during manufacturing and use may occur through inhalation, dermal contact, and ingestion. Minimal information is currently available on dominant exposure routes, potential exposure levels, and material toxicity. Studies have indicated that low solubility ultrafine particles are more toxic than larger particles on a mass for mass basis. There are indications that ultrafine particles can penetrate through the skin, or translocate from the respiratory system to other organs. Although research is underway with the goal of understanding how these unique modes of biological interaction may lead to specific health effects, health effects of concern include cardiovascular health effects and cancer. The NIOSH Nanotechnology topic page is an excellent source of information concerning current efforts related to nanotechnology.

Mechanisms of Carcinogenesis

Based on well-documented associations between occupational exposures and cancer, it is estimated that approximately 20,000 cancer deaths and 40,000 new cases of cancer each year in the United States are attributable to occupation. Millions of U.S. workers are exposed to substances that have tested as carcinogens in animal studies. Less than 2% of chemicals in commerce have been tested for carcinogenicity. Cancer is a group of different diseases that have the same feature, the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells. Each different type of cancer may have its own set of causes. Investigation into mechanisms of carcinogenesis is an exciting area of research within the CRC. More information is available on the NIOSH Occupational Cancer topic page.


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Page last reviewed: May 23, 2011