“This job is killing me.”
Unfortunately, this cliche complaint might be more literal than figurative for women working in certain industries.
Historically, studies have identified links between breast cancer and certain jobs. Most of the jobs previously identified as cancer risk factors are in the industrial and agricultural settings.
A new Canadian study has further clarified specific occupations associated with increased cancer risks for women.
The research field is known as environmental or occupational epidemiology—essentially the study of how work can make you sick.
The six-year study, published in the journal Environmental Health, studied over 1,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer, and over 1,000 community controls. The data collected included detailed work histories for all participants.
Specific occupations were coded according to their cumulative exposure rate to known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can wreak havoc on your endocrine (hormonal) system, interfering with healthy functioning. These chemicals can have vast neurological, immunological and reproductive effects as well as increase the incidence of cancer.
Researchers in the Canadian study adjusted for other risk factors including weight, smoking, alcohol use and family history.
The findings confirmed previously identified risks in the industrial, agricultural and farming sectors, and pinpointed several jobs that increase the risk of breast cancer as well as jeopardize hormonal health.
Because of the lack of accurate chemical records at many of the work sites studied, the specific chemical culprits remain to be identified. However, the following four job categories were found to increase the risk of breast cancer for women workers.
1. Working at a bar, casino or racetrack.
These industries often include environments where a working woman is more likely to be exposed to second-hand smoke, a well-established carrier of carcinogenic toxins that make their way into the cells through inhalation.
2. Farming and agriculture.
Women working in these industries were found to be 42% more likely to develop breast cancer than the control group. Suspected endocrine disruptors frequently encountered in farming include pesticides and certain fertilizers.
3. Plastics manufacturing and rubber production.
Women in these industries were found to have nearly double the risk for breast cancer. Exposure to plasticizers such as biosphenol A are consistently linked with endometriosis, fertility problems and cancer.
4. Automotive plastics production.
The manufacturing of car interiors is a particularly risky occupation for women. The Canadian study found that premenopausal women in this industry had more than five times the risk for breast cancer than the control group.
Results of the new study highlight the value in evaluating environmental risk factors and the necessity for improving protective regulatory limits on chemical exposure at the workplace.
James Brophy, the lead author of the Canadian study, pointed out that the findings “illustrates the value of taking detailed occupational histories of cancer patients.”
Deeper research in the field of occupational epidemiology could eventually reveal more specific chemicals involved, and more ways women in these fields can educate themselves and protect themselves against the elevated risk for breast cancer.