Job-Related Breast Cancer Risks

Breast cancer risks increased with occupational chemical exposure

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Chemicals are everywhere – in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the couches we sit on. And some of these substances can mess with a woman’s hormones, while others are known cancer causing agents. These chemicals are sometimes occupational hazards.

Certain jobs expose women to chemicals that can disrupt the balance of her body and increase her risks of breast cancer, a recent study has confirmed.

"Find out how to protect yourself from chemical exposure."

Researchers conducted a population-based study involving just over 1,000 women in Southern Ontario Canada with breast cancer, and 1,146 women who didn’t have the disease.

The study was designed to describe how occupation affected breast cancer risk. Of particular interest were manufacturing and agricultural jobs.

The women were interviewed about their occupations, along with their reproductive history – how many pregnancies and children they’d had.

Occupations were categorized according to the likelihood of exposure to both endocrine disruptors and carcinogens. This data was then compared with the type (hormone receptor) of breast cancer the women had.

In addition to studying known carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals), the investigators were looking at so-called endocrine disruptors. These are both natural and synthetic chemicals that interfere with hormone function.

Chemicals that affect a woman’s estrogen levels can increase her risk of breast cancer, for example. Estrogen is the most common driver of breast cancer.

Researchers confirmed what has long been believed - that occupational chemical exposure does indeed increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.

Jobs that have the highest chemical exposures, the researchers found, include: farming; bar/gambling; automotive plastics manufacturing; food canning and metal working.

Younger women who had not yet been through menopause and worked in the automotive plastics and food canning industries were at highest risk, according to the study.

Lead study author, James T. Brophy, PhD, of the University of Stirling in Scotland, said in a press release, "Our results highlight the importance of occupational studies in identifying and quantifying environmental risk factors and illustrates the value of taking detailed occupational histories of cancer patients. Mounting evidence suggests that we need to re-evaluate occupational exposure limits in regulatory protection," Brophy added.

The authors concluded, "While this study was unable to identify exposure to specific chemicals, associations were observed between breast cancer carcinogens and endocrine disrupting compounds."

This study was published in the November issue of Environmental Health. The research was supported by the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminology at the University of Windsor and the National Network on Environments and Women’s Health. No conflicts of interest were declared.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 29, 2012
Last Updated:
April 11, 2013