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New Study Finds Women Exposed to Hazardous
Chemicals at Work Are 42% More Likely
to Develop Breast Cancer
High Risk Jobs Include: Farming, Auto Plastics Manufacturing,
Food Tinning, Metalworking, and Bar/Casino/Race Courses
Today HealthyStuff.org and the National Network on the Environments and Women's Health (Canada) are jointly distributing the results of a new study on breast cancer and occupations. The new study released today in Environmental Health found a statistically significant association between the increased risk of breast cancer among women who work in jobs where they are exposed to a "toxic soup" of chemicals. Researchers were from Canada, USA and UK, including four from the Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group (OEHRG) at the University of Stirling in Scotland.
The case control study, involving 1005 women with breast cancer and 1147 without the disease, revealed that women who worked in jobs classified as highly exposed for 10 years increased their breast cancer risk by 42%.
Dr. James Brophy and Dr. Margaret Keith, lead researchers for the study, both work in the OEHRG at Stirling as well as the University of Windsor in Ontario.
"Breast cancer incidence rose throughout the developed world in the second
half of the twentieth century as women entered industrial workplaces and many
new and untested chemicals were being introduced," said Dr. Keith. "Diverse
and concentrated exposures to carcinogens and hormone disrupting chemicals
in some workplaces can put workers at an increased risk for developing cancer."
The study found several occupational sectors in which there was elevated breast cancer risk:
Farming: showed a 36% increased breast cancer risk. Several pesticides act as mammary carcinogens and many are endocrine disrupting chemicals.
Food Canning: The risk of developing breast cancer doubles for women working in the tinned food sector; and among those who were premenopausal, the risk was five times as great. Exposures to chemicals in the food canning industry may include pesticide residues and emissions from the polymer linings of tins.
Metalworking: A statistically significant 73% increased breast cancer risk was found in the metalworking sector. Women working in tooling, foundries and metal parts manufacturing are exposed to a variety of potentially hazardous metals and chemicals.
Bar/Casino/Race Courses: The risk of developing breast cancer doubles for women working in the bar/casino/racing sector. The elevated risk of developing breast cancer may be linked to second-hand smoke exposure and night work which has been found to disrupt the endocrine system.
Plastics: The risk of developing breast cancer doubles for women working in the Canadian car industry's plastics manufacturing sector; and among those who were premenopausal, the risk was almost five times as great. Many plastics have been found to release estrogenic and carcinogenic chemicals and cumulative exposures to mixtures of these chemicals are a significant concern.
An allied research group based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, HealthyStuff.org, has sampled nearly 1,000 cars since 1996 and has identified a range of other health hazards due to toxic chemical exposure in vehicles. Many of these hazards, including plasticizers, UV-protectors, pigments, dyes, flame retardants, un-reacted resin components and decomposition products, may be released through plastic products life cycle. Phthalates and PBDEs are examples.
"Consumers are exposed daily to the same toxic soup of chemicals that workers are, and we are greatly concerned that government standards are not enough to protect us from carcinogens and endocrine disrupting chemicals in plastics and vehicles," said Jeff Gearhart, lead researcher at HealthyStuff.org.
Dr. Brophy called for further research to be funded as a matter of urgency. "The
study of occupational risks for breast cancer is a neglected area of research,"
he said. "Resources should be aggressively allocated to preventing occupational
exposures to cancer-causing and endocrine disrupting chemicals linked to breast
"The study also points to the need to re-evaluate occupational and environmental exposure standards, keeping in mind that there may be no determinable safe levels to cancer-causing or hormone-disrupting chemicals," said Dr. Keith.
Notes to Editors:
Carcinogens: There are several stages involved in the development of cancer including initiation, promotion and progression. The complex mixture of chemical exposures in the industrial workplace may have an impact on each of these stages.
Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals: Synthetic chemicals can disrupt a variety of essential endocrine functions in the body. Disruption of the delicate hormone balance can result in reproductive disorders, immune system dysfunction, some cancers, birth defects, and neurological effects. In traditional toxicology a higher dose of a substance is expected to produce a greater effect. This is not necessarily the case with endocrine disrupting chemicals which can have health impacts even at very low levels.
Windows of Vulnerability: The timing of chemical exposure and stage of biological development can have an impact on a woman's risk of developing breast cancer. Women are more susceptible to the effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals before breast tissue is fully matured. This study considered cumulative exposures during four critical windows: a) before menstruation, b) menstruation to the first full term pregnancy, c) first full term pregnancy to menopause, and d) after menopause.
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