Truck drivers face many added risks, including some alarming correlations to numerous types of cancers – in particular, lung cancer, prostate cancer, and melanoma (the most aggressive type of skin cancer).
It’s critical to understand that both lifestyle and genetics play significant roles in every individual’s risk for cancer. While we cannot control our genetics, we can affect our genes’ expression through lifestyle changes.
It’s not only important to educate and emphasize the health benefits of exercise, healthy eating and proper sleep with your drivers, but also to support drivers in their efforts. Simple changes such as walking and stretching during breaks, eating more greens and natural foods, and getting an average of seven or more hours of sleep per night will significantly reduce the risk for most cancers.
If cancer is in a person’s family history, they likely are at an increased risk, so extra precautions need to be taken. Educating drivers and working with them to attain this information, along with providing resources for regular check-ups, is a great starting point.
Let’s look more specifically at three types of cancers where truck drivers may be more at risk.
There has been an increased concern for truck drivers over the past decade. You may recall seeing a viral image of a 69-year-old trucker who had been on the road for 28 years, who showed significant aging on the left side of his face – the side exposed to more ultraviolet light while driving.
More than one study has found that melanoma is more prevalent on the side of the body, especially on the arms, that’s exposed to the sun. In the U.S., that’s on the left side. In Australia, where you drive on the opposite side, it’s more prevalent on the right. While most car and truck windows block out a majority of ultraviolet light, some still gets through and causes damage over time. And for drivers who like to keep their windows open, often due to smoking, there is a significant added risk.
Encourage drivers to use sunscreen (minimum 30 SPF) regularly and/or covering up with clothing. It’s also important for fleets to provide window treatments that block out UVB and UVA rays.
2. Prostate cancer
Another concern for drivers is the risk for aggressive prostate cancer. Studies have shown a correlation between the whole-body vibrations experienced when driving a truck and aggressive prostate cancer, although researchers are not sure why. In comparison to educators who experience no vibration on the job, truck drivers were four times more likely to have an aggressive form of prostate cancer.
While it’s not easy to reduce vibration (outside of shock absorption in the seat and wheels of the truck, which need to be considered), encourage and educate drivers about other steps they can take to reduce their risk of prostate cancer, such as stopping smoking, and a diet rich in foods like tomatoes, broccoli, green tea, legumes, and healthy fats from fish and nuts.
3. Lung cancer
Truck drivers are at higher risk of developing lung cancer. Not only are they more likely to smoke cigarettes than the average American, but they also may be exposed to more harmful air pollution from cars and other trucks. Drivers who are using N95 (or KN95 or KF94) face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 should be encouraged to wear masks while driving, especially in heavy traffic. Multi-layer cloth masks and surgical masks also can offer some protection but are not as effective.
I always want to encourage fleets to take a proactive approach to helping drivers stay healthy and safe on the road.