With last month recognized as Lung Cancer Awareness Month, now is a crucial time to raise awareness for individuals who may be at a higher risk of developing this disease. In 2023 alone, over 238,000 new cases of lung cancer were reported in the U.S.

Most occupational lung diseases are caused by repeated, long-term exposures, but even a severe, single exposure to a hazardous agent can damage the lungs, and smoking may increase both the severity of an occupational lung disease and the risk for lung cancer. Besides smoking, passive smoking exposure to environmental cigarette smoke), occupational exposure to agents such as asbestos, hard metals, coal production, silica exposure, certain types of radiation, such as radon, and indoor/outdoor air pollution may also be risk factors for lung cancer development. 

While many are aware of the link between smoking and lung cancer, it’s important to recognize that occupational hazards also play a significant role in the development of this condition, and smoking may be synergistic with occupational exposure in causing lung cancer. Here are the top occupations that are at a higher risk of developing lung cancer later in life.

Construction Workers

Construction workers and demolition crews have an increased risk for lung cancer, with roofers and welders having the highest risk for lung cancer and mesothelioma when compared to the general public. Lung cancer and construction workers may be associated with multiple potential exposures. Asbestos is the leading cause of lung cancer death among construction workers after potential asbestos exposure when working on or taking down buildings that use asbestos-containing materials (ACMs). ACMs include but are not limited to insulation, floor tiles, and roofing materials. Exposure to silica, commonly found in construction materials, may also create risks for lung diseases and cancer. There is evidence that exposure to diesel engine exhaust emissions may increase the risk of lung cancer. Exposure to other chemicals may cause increased lung cancer risk.


Welders work in an environment where they are exposed to fumes and gasses produced during the welding process. These fumes may contain carcinogenic substances such as chromium, nickel, and arsenic, putting welders at an increased risk of developing lung cancer.


Exposure may vary from firefighter to firefighter, depending on location and the number of fire calls, but firefighters are also at an increased risk of developing lung cancer. In addition to the intense safety hazards firefighters face while on the job, they also face inhalation hazards from a mix of smoke, fumes, and chemicals. A brief but not all-inclusive list of potential exposures would include arsenic, Asbestos, aromatic hydrocarbons, cadmium, silica, radiation, and more that may place firefighters at risk.

Factory Workers

Working in manufacturing plants exposes individuals to a range of hazardous substances, including silica dust, asbestos, carbon sit, and chemical fumes. The cumulative effect of these exposures can contribute to the development of lung cancer over time.

Taking Preventative Measure

Employers and individuals in high-risk occupations must be aware of the potential dangers they face and take necessary preventative measures to protect worker’s lung health. This includes providing and using personal protective equipment (PPE), enforcing and following safety regulations, undergoing regular screenings to detect potential issues early, and re-engineering the workplace to eliminate exposure hazards.

Medix Occupational Health can work with employers to coordinate a medical surveillance program for workers in different industries who may be at risk for this and other conditions. With over 50 years of combined experience, our expert providers and staff are committed to providing you with high-quality and efficient occupational health services. Contact our Ankeny office to learn more.