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Ontario Cancer Facts

Occupation related to prostate cancer risk in Canadian men

Nov 2018


  • Men employed in natural resources, management/administration, protective services, transportation, and construction occupations have been observed to be at increased risk of prostate cancer.
  • Occupational risk factors that may be involved in the identified occupations are pesticides, diesel exhaust, whole body vibrations, wood dust, shift work, sedentary behaviour and stress.
  • A better understanding of the causes of prostate cancer can help in the development of effective, targeted prevention strategies.


According to recent research done by the Occupational Cancer Research Centre, men employed in natural resources industries (agriculture, forestry, logging, wood, paper), management, administration, protective services (firefighters, police and the armed forces), construction and transportation have shown an increased risk of prostate cancer.

Risk factors for prostate cancer, including occupation groups

Risk factors for prostate cancer, including occupation groups

Source: Diagram adapted from Sritharan J. Investigating the Occupational Etiology of Prostate Cancer in Canadian men (doctoral dissertation).

Risk factors for prostate cancer, including occupation groups

Established Risk Factors

  • Age
  • Family history of prostate cancer
  • Ethnicity

Identified Occupations in Recent Studies

  • Construction
  • Management/Administration
  • Natural resources
  • Protective services
  • Transportation

Potential Occupational Factors

  • Diesel exhaust
  • Pesticides
  • Sedentary behaviour
  • Shift work
  • Stress
  • Wood dust
  • Whole body vibration

Other Probable Factors

  • BMI/Obesity
  • Diet
  • Exogenous androgens
  • Genetic mutations
  • Screening behaviours
  • Sedentary behaviour
  • Stress

Three Canadian studies were used to understand how occupation is related to prostate cancer: the Northeastern Ontario Prostate Cancer Study, the National Enhanced Cancer Surveillance System, and the 1991 Canadian Census Health and Environment Cohort. A meta-analysis was also conducted to understand specific occupation groups and prostate cancer risk.


The findings from these 3 population-based studies and meta-analysis support previous evidence on associations between prostate cancer risk and employment in natural resource-based industries, management, administration, protective services, construction and transportation. Although the specific aspects of these jobs that may increase prostate cancer risk are still unknown, there are overlapping exposures that may link these occupations to prostate cancer which require further investigation.


For example, men who are exposed to pesticides, diesel exhaust, whole body vibrations, wood dust and shift work are likely to be involved in natural resource-based industries, transportation and construction. Protective services workers may be exposed to diesel exhaust, whole body vibrations and shift work to some degree. Other factors may also be involved, such as sedentary behaviour and psychological stress. These factors may be tied to management and administrative work because these jobs usually involve few chemical exposures, and protective services workers have been shown to have increased psychological stress due to the high risk nature of their professions.


Until now, little has been known about the causes of prostate cancer, except for a few established non-modifiable factors (increasing age, family history of prostate cancer and ethnicity) and some evidence suggesting that occupational exposures may increase the risk of prostate cancer. Findings from these recent studies provide a better understanding of the occupational etiology of prostate cancer. Given that there may be multiple occupational exposures and other factors involved in the relationship between occupation and prostate cancer, more research is needed to further understand this complex relationship.


Prostate cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in Canada (21% of all new cases), and it is expected to remain common in the coming decades. It is also the 4th most commonly diagnosed cancer in Ontario. A better understanding of the causes of prostate cancer through continued research can help in the development of effective, targeted prevention strategies. View the publications from this project.


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