‘Toxic’ work environment linked to breast cancer risk

Working in a “toxic soup” of chemicals linked to certain occupations can double the risk of developing breast cancer.

High-risk jobs include those in agriculture, plastics, food packaging, metal manufacture, and the pub and gambling industries.

Women employed for 10 years in some of these sectors had more than twice the normal chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer.

For pre-menopausal women, working in factories producing plastic components for cars or tin cans increased the risk fivefold.

All these occupations involve exposure to potential carcinogens or “endocrine disrupter” chemicals that interfere with the body’s hormone systems.

There is increasing evidence that even low-level exposure to endocrine disrupters over long periods of time can lead to changes that trigger cancer.

British-led researchers conducting the study looked at 1,006 women with breast cancer in Ontario, Canada.

They were compared with 1,147 randomly selected and matched women from the local community.

Information about participants’ occupational and reproductive histories was collected through interviews and surveys. Scientists assessed the impact on cancer risk of spending 10 years in different occupations, taking account of a five-year time lag between exposure and diagnosis.

Working in agriculture increased the risk by 34% overall, and by as much as 74%.

Working in the metal industry was associated with a 73% increase. Jobs in plastics, pubs, and canning more than doubled the chances of developing breast cancer.

The study was published in the journal Environmental Health.

Exposure to tobacco smoke may be one reason why bar staff and women working in the gambling industry are more likely to develop breast cancer, said the researchers.

Shift work and working at night, both associated with raised breast cancer risk, may also be involved, said researchers.

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