·  USW

USW Calls for Immediate Screening of High-Risk Workers for Lung Cancer

New National Cancer Institute Study Demonstrates Life-Saving Opportunities

Contacts: Wayne Ranick (412) 562-2444
              Jim Fredrick (724) 462-5364

(Pittsburgh) – The United Steelworkers (USW) today issued an urgent call for a strategy meeting about occupational lung cancer medical screening. Last week, the National Cancer Institute released the results of a 10 year national study involving over 53,000 people that demonstrated that annual medical screening with a low dose helical chest CT scan lowered mortality due to lung cancer by 20%. 

“We are now presented with an enormous opportunity to save workers from dying from lung cancer,” said USW International President Leo W. Gerard. “Millions of workers have been exposed to asbestos, silica, chromium, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, nickel and combustion products – and all of these exposures are firmly established as causes of human lung cancer.”

Work-related lung cancer claims 10,000 to 20,000 workers annually and is the leading occupational cancer in the U.S. The landmark study is the first ever to prove that a screening method now exists that detects lung cancer at an early stage, one that permits early treatment and cure. The results were so convincing that the NCI halted the study early in order to inform participants and the general public about the effectiveness of applying low dose chest CT scans for the detection and treatment of lung cancer.

The USW currently sponsors the largest occupational lung cancer screening program in the United States, apart from the NCI trial. It is the CT scan-based Early Lung Cancer Detection Program and is co-sponsored by Queens College (City University of New York), and the Atomic Trades & Labor Council.

This program, funded by the Department of Energy (DOE), uses the same CT scan technique as the NCI trial and has screened over 10,000 nuclear weapons workers in three states between 2000 and 2010. Some 70 lung cancers, three-quarters of which are at an early stage, have been detected.

“Union health and safety leaders and others need to meet in the very near future in Washington DC to devise a strategy for assuring that high risk workers are among the first to obtain the benefits of this new screening method,” said Gerard.

Topics for discussion would include: identifying and notifying workers at high risk of lung cancer; revising OSHA medical surveillance standards to include lung cancer screening; stimulating NIOSH to use its educational and research mechanisms to promote and apply the science of lung cancer screening; engaging professional organizations, government agencies, and health insurers to ensure that high risk workers are a priority in establishing lung cancer screening programs; disseminating  current knowledge about lung cancer screening throughout labor and allied organizations; and, identifying and promoting funding for CT-based lung cancer screening.

“The goal is straightforward but urgent,” said Steven Markowitz, MD, the occupational medicine physician who directs the USW’s Early Lung Cancer Detection Program. “Workers at high risk of lung cancer should have rapid access to a high quality, appropriate, comprehensive CT scan-based lung cancer screening services without financial barriers. We can save many lives.”

The USW is the largest industrial union in North America and has 850,000 members in the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean. It represents workers employed in metals, rubber, chemicals, paper, oil refining, atomic energy and the service sector.

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