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Painters are at a significantly increased risk of developing bladder cancer, with the risk increasing the longer a person works in the trade, a new study has confirmed. The research is based on almost 3,000 cases of the disease in professional painters reported in 41 separate studies carried out between the 1950s and 1990s. The large scale ‘meta-analysis’, published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, found those with more than 10 years in the trade were more likely to develop bladder cancer than those who had been doing so for less than that time.

Lead author Dr Neela Guha said the risk arises not solely from exposure to paint but to factors that can occur in the environment in which painters work, such as the stripping of old paintwork, sanding or exposure to asbestos. The authors of the study found that after taking tobacco use into account, painters were still 30 per cent more likely to develop bladder cancer than the general population. Dr Guha said that while harmful chemicals like benzene and lead had been reduced or removed from paints in developed countries, it was too soon to say whether new, ‘greener’ paints would reduce the risk of bladder cancer as the disease takes between 10 and 50 years to develop.

Those working in high-risk environments should wear gloves and keep skin covered, wear a mask or respirator, should not to eat in the area and should ensure the buildings were well ventilated, Dr Guha said. An accompanying editorial by Professor Paolo Vineis of Imperial College London praised the ‘important’ study. He said: ‘The evidence in this case is clearly laid down and is strikingly consistent.’ Out of 41 studies reviewed, 37 showed an increased risk, he said.

  • Neela Guha et al. Bladder cancer risk in painters: a meta-analysis, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, volume 67, pages 568-673, 2010.
  • Paolo Vineis. Editorial: Bladder cancer risk in painters, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, volume 67, pages 505-506, 2010.