Certain occupations lead to a higher risk of breast cancer than others, specifically ones that bring the worker in contact with possible carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. This previously ignored topic has been addressed in new research in the journal Environmental Health.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis in women in developed countries, and North American rates are some of the highest worldwide. Endocrine-impeding chemicals and carcinogens, some of which have yet to be identified, are found in working environments and may elevate the risk of breast cancer.

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that inhibit the hormone system. These disruptions can cause tumors, developmental disorders, and birth defects. These can result in deformations of the body, brain development issues, severe attention deficit disorder and sexual development problems. Most systems in the body involving hormones can be affected by these disruptions.

In this study, James T Brophy and his research team aimed to identify the associations between different jobs and breast cancer, specifically in the manufacturing and farming fields.

The researchers conducted a population-based case-control study in Ontario, Canada which measured 1,006 breast cancer cases, with 1,147 randomly chosen and matched public controls. The authors used surveys and interviews to collect data on the occupational and reproductive histories of the volunteers.

The occupations were coded for their probability of exposing workers to carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, and the patients’ tumor pathology concerning endocrine receptor status was examined.

Among all populations of this group of volunteers, the authors found that women in occupations with possible high exposure to endocrine disruptors and carcinogens had a higher risk of breast cancer.

Areas with elevated risk include the following:

  • bar/gambling
  • automotive plastics manufacturing
  • metal-working
  • food canning
  • agriculture

Notably, premenopausal breast cancer risk was most elevated in the automotive plastics and food canning industries.

The results also point out that women with lower socioeconomic status have an increased risk of breast cancer, possibly stemming from higher exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the lower-income agricultural and manufacturing parts of the study area.

The findings verify previous research which demonstrated links between endocrine disruptors and carcinogens to breast cancer risk.

Lead author Brophy says:

“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.”

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald