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National Blood Cancer Day: What you need to know about Occupational Blood Cancer

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Approximately 135,000 Australians currently live with blood cancer or a related blood disorder, and it is expected that more than 19,400 people will be newly diagnosed each year.

With approximately 16 people will losing their life each day, blood cancer and related blood disorders claim more lives than breast cancer and melanoma combined.

There are more than 120 forms of blood cancers with numerous categories and sub-categories. The most common are:

  • Leukaemia: a group of cancers that develop in the bone marrow.
  • Lymphoma: a group of cancers that develop in the lymphatic system.
  • Myeloma: cancer of the plasma cells.
  • Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS): a group of cancers which affect the production of normal blood cells in the bone marrow. In some cases, MDS can transform into leukemia.

Many people are unaware that there may be an occupational connection to their blood cancer, or that their current employment exposes them to hazardous substances that may cause blood cancer. Blood cancer caused by exposure to hazardous substances has a minimum latency period of one year. However, it is more common that the blood cancer will develop 10 to 15 years after exposure.

As blood cancer cannot be screened or otherwise prevented, it is important to be aware of, and limit exposures to, hazardous substances that may increase the risk of developing blood cancer.

What Hazardous Substances Found in the Workplace Can Cause Blood Cancer?

According to SafeWork Australia, there are a number of hazardous substances found in the workplace that are linked to Leukemia. There is evidence to suggest that these hazardous substances, particularly benzene, may also be linked to lymphoma, myeloma, and MDS.

  • Benzene: Occupations at risk of exposure to benzene are those who are exposed to fuels (such as mechanics, motor vehicle drivers, and firefighters) and those who manufacture or work with benzene (such as steel workers, rubber workers, and shoemakers).
  • Butadiene: Occupations at risk of exposure to butadiene are machine operators and those in the rubber and plastic processing industries.
  • Cyclophosphamide: Occupations at risk of dermal exposure to cyclophosphamide are those who are involved in preparing or administering the drug to patients, such as nurses and pharmacists.
  • Formaldehyde: Occupations at risk of exposure to formaldehyde are embalmers, pathology laboratory workers, and formaldehyde resin manufacturers.

What Are the Symptoms?

Symptoms vary between each person and are dependant on the specific type of blood cancer.

In general, common symptoms may include:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unexplained bruising or bleeding
  • Unexplained rashes
  • Lumps or swelling around the neck, armpit, or groin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Night sweats
  • Repeat/severe infections
  • Frequent fevers
  • Pain in bones and joints
  • Fatigue

Am I eligible for WorkCover compensation if I have blood cancer? How can I prove that it was caused by work?

A worker diagnosed with blood cancer may be entitled to WorkCover compensation based on the nature of their employment (whether current or former employment).

It must be shown that the nature of your employment significantly increased the risk of you developing blood cancer, rather than you proving that your current or past employment with a specific employer is the actual cause.

A worker diagnosed with an occupational disease may be entitled to claim WorkCover compensation for:

  • Weekly loss of income benefits
  • Medical and like expenses
  • Impairment Benefit (no fault lump sum)
  • In some circumstances, damages for pain and suffering and loss of earnings
  • You may also be entitled to other benefits regardless of whether you qualify for WorkCover compensation, including total and permanent disablement benefits from your superannuation policy.

What to do if you think you have occupational blood cancer

If someone considers they may have occupational blood cancer, they should see their general practitioner or specialist to determine if they have any conditions or diseases that may be due to the nature of their employment. It is important they give an occupational history. Given that the period between exposure and the onset of symptoms can be lengthy, early preventative measures and detection is recommended. We also recommend you contact our specialist legal team who can help support you through this process.