A Digest on Chimney Sweep’s Cancer

What is chimney sweep’s cancer?

Soot wart or chimney sweep’s cancer is a squamous cell carcinoma of the scrotum’s skin. It was the first reported and declared form of ‘occupational cancer’. In 1775, Percivall Pott first identified it. Soot wart was formerly noticed as predominantly prevalent mostly among the chimney sweeps.

Pathogenesis of Chimney Sweep’s Cancer:

Chimney sweep’s carcinoma is the scrotum skin’s squamous cell carcinoma. Warts are occurred by the irritation triggered by the soot particles. If not taken care of, it will further develop into scrotal cancer. Further, it goes invading the dartos, enlarging the testicle and goes up to spermatic cord into the abdomen where it becomes deadly.

The facts:

The 18th century Europe encountered the chimney sweep cancer commonly. It was a then tradition to hire young boys, usually orphans or kids from poor families who were small in size and could climb inside the chimney line for brushing. Even in North America, chimney sweeping was very common. Chimney sweep cancer was majorly found in the English chimney sweeps because the chimney flues were narrow, and Londoners used to appoint young boys who were aged between 4 and 7 and could easily fit through the channels.

Furthermore, poor hygiene conditions were prominently prevalent. The little kids got to bathe once a year and often worked naked that exposed their skin to the poisons present in the chimney soot. At that time, there was no regulating law in England to take care of child labour. In 1788, the first Chimney Sweepers Act was passed. The minimum working age considered was 8 years. The British Parliament was aware of child labour exploitation and passed a law that prohibits kids younger than 10 years to work professionally. It was in 1834. Also, children younger than 14 years of age were prohibited to be involved in chimney cleaning.

Again, in the year 1840, change has been brought to the law. The minimum age of apprenticeship for the job of a chimney sweep was made 16 years. But, the age criteria were widely ignored due to the lack of enforcement. The children who were under 10 years old were appointed for chimney cleaning.

On the other hand, in France, Victor Hugo, anxious by social injustice castigated the exploitation of the children in the year 1862 through the famous character of Cosette in one of his novel ‘Les Misérables. He attempted to raise public awareness concerning the lack of enforcement of laws passed in the countries during the industrial revolution.

The social context of Chimney sweep’s cancer:

It was chiefly a British phenomenon. In Germany, the child sweeps used to wear tight-fitting protective clothing that prevented the soot from gathering on the scrotum’s lower surface. In the UK, the boys were sent up in the chimneys only in shirt and trousers and even naked if the situation demanded. Before the introduction of the flexible brush, the master sweeps used to appoint apprentices who were little kids (mainly boys) from the workhouse or bought them from the poor parents. These kids were given the training to climb chimneys.

In Germany, the master sweeps hailed from the trade guilds. They didn’t use climbing boys. Climbing boys were mainly used in France, Italy, and Belgium. Boys who were even young as 4 years used to climb the hot flues that could be narrow as 230 mm square. The job was extremely dangerous. Many times, the kids used to get jammed in the flue, get suffocated or burn to death. The kids used to sleep under the soot sacks. They rarely took a bath.

From the year 1775, there was a growing concern for the chimney sweeps’ welfare. The Acts of Parliament came into being for restricting. In 1875, it was enforced to stop usage. A philanthropist named Lord Shaftesbury was the leader of the campaign. In the United States, the black children were appointed from their owners and were made used in the same way.

The treatment:

Through surgery, the treatment was done where the diseased flesh was cut off. The surgeon used to apply a simple process before the anaesthetics were introduced. It was very scary for the patient. Alternative treatments were applied that included the arsenic paste poultice’s application.

The chimney sweeps were not known to maintain a hygienic routine. The youngest victim was as little as eight years old as per a record in 1970.