Occupational and environmental factors

Does my occupation or environment affect my risk of cancer?

Contact with certain harmful substances in the natural environment or workplace can cause cancer. Substances that are known to cause cancer are called carcinogens.


Asbestos is a natural mineral that can cause damage to the lungs. Nine out of ten people who develop mesothelioma (a rare type of cancer affecting the linings of the lung and abdomen) have had contact with asbestos. People who have worked in industries such as ship-building and construction may have come into contact with asbestos. Its use is now banned in the UK.

Other occupational causes of cancer

Certain chemicals used in dye factories, rubber production, gas works and other chemical industries have all been linked to bladder cancer. Fortunately these chemicals have now been banned.

Environmental causes of cancer

One of the main environmental causes of cancer is natural radiation, for example from the sun. We know that most skin cancers are caused because of prolonged exposure to the sun.

Another example is radon, a naturally occurring gas that’s found in the rock of certain parts of the UK. Radon has been linked to the development of lung cancer.

Back to Potential causes of cancer

Low immunity

People with low immunity are at a higher risk of developing some types of cancer.

Viruses and bacteria

You cannot catch cancer from someone else. But some viruses may increase your risk of developing cancer.

Human papilloma virus (HPV)

Human papilloma virus (or HPV) is a common infection. Some types of HPV can increase the risk of developing cancer.

HPV vaccines

There are two vaccines currently available across the UK to prevent human papilloma virus (HPV).