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Driver Lifestyles

Occupational Hazards: Cancers

By Sandy Long
Posted Jun 3rd 2014 11:42AM

Few studies have been done relating to drivers and cancer. Skin and lung cancers are two of them; the only other one found was on prostate cancer. Drivers are exposed to all sorts of contaminants while driving, in old warehouses containing asbestos across the country and have one side of the body usually exposed for full shifts in the sun. Add in that truckers lead sedentary lifestyles, rarely are hydrated enough, and have usually bad diets with high fat and low fiber; it would make sense that due to our jobs, we are at a higher risk for almost any type of cancer.

A study done by the CDC showed a much higher incidence of lung cancer in trucker than in the general population. While the researchers thought this was due to diesel exhaust, soot, road grime and fumes, they could not say so definitively because so many truckers smoke. Another study on lung cancer among truckers found that being exposed to asbestos in many old warehouses and factories might be a factor along with other air pollutants found in paint and chemicals used in the manufacturing processes. Symptoms include shortness of breath, pain while breathing or coughing and constant coughing.

Left side of the body skin cancers are very prevalent in truckers due to that side being constantly in the sun coming in the driver’s side window. However, contaminants again are at fault in skin cancers found elsewhere on the body. If you find a change in a mole, rough spots that do not go away, discoloration or any other blemish that looks suspicious, go to your doctor and have it checked out. If caught early, skin cancer is easily treated.

Prostate cancer for male truckers is very high. Studies show that this is due to the vibrations of the truck and road. It is thought that the vibration causes the male body to produce more testosterone that raises the risk of prostate cancer. Another cause, according to the American Cancer Society, is that excessive vibration can cause inflammation of the prostate that is linked to cancer. Symptoms of prostate cancer are trouble in urination, having to get up in the middle of the night often to urinate, slow or fitful stream and erectile dysfunction.

Bladder and kidney cancer too is prevalent in truckers of both genders. This type of cancer is linked to chemical exposure in most studies. However, other causes are thought to have bearing on the development of bladder and kidney cancer in truck drivers. Truckers have a tendency to dehydrate themselves using too much caffeine and not drinking enough water. Furthermore, most have a tendency to hold their urine for too long that can lead to bacterial infections which is a leading cause of bladder and kidney infections and cancer. Symptoms are painful urination, blood in the urine and pain in the lower belly along with possible fever. These symptoms mimic bladder or kidney infections, so if you have these symptoms get checked out immediately.

There are no studies linking breast cancer to women truck drivers, however, it would follow that trucking would have some bearing on women truckers being at higher risk of breast cancer. This assumption can be made due to exposure to chemical contaminants and to the excessive vibration both which can damage the delicate tissue found in the breast. A little known fact about breast cancer is that small amounts of men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Symptoms of breast cancer are usually lumps found by self-examination or during routine mammograms.

Colon cancer affects hundreds of truckers without them being aware of it because they put the symptoms down to lifestyle and diet. These symptoms can include constipation, sense of incomplete bowel movement, blood on the toilet paper, bright red, maroon-colored, or black stool. The latter two symptoms would seem to be an obvious flag, but truck stop bathrooms are not necessarily a place where truckers can stop and check their stool for changes if they even think to check. In addition, some drivers take supplements with iron, which can cause stool to be dark. Since some of these same symptoms are found in one having hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome, or ulcers, colon cancer can easily be miss diagnosed in truckers.

The symptoms of colon cancer are pain located on the right side at the beginning of the colon. Further symptoms may consist of nausea and vomiting, and nonspecific abdominal pain. These symptoms will rapidly change when the colon becomes completely obstructed. Other common symptoms are weight loss and fatigue. There are fecal self-test kits available if you have any of the symptoms thru your doctor.

Other cancers that may be found in truckers due to their jobs though less common are sinus cancer, mouth, throat or esophageal cancers and stomach cancers.

Many truckers depend on the DOT physical as the only physical they need, however the DOT physical just assures that you are fit to drive, not a true in-depth physical needed to spot diseases like cancer. This belief by truckers leads to problems when cancer, which is usually easily treated if found early enough, is not found until the last stages. In addition, many truckers do not have comprehensive medical insurance, have difficulties in making scheduled personal appointments for doctor visits and/or testing and may not have someone to go with them for tests that require them to be sedated such as a colonoscopy.

With the prevalence of occupation risks for all sorts of cancers and other life threatening diseases within the trucking industry, and in doing the job, it behooves the driver to think about their own and their family’s futures and well-being by getting regular checkups outside of the DOT physicals. Becoming aware of the occupational health hazards found in doing the job, the symptoms to look for and what to do if they are found is the same as doing an intense pre-trip on the truck. After all a trucker’s body is the biggest tool they have in doing the job, it has to be in good order to do the job correctly and safely.


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