Certain Jobs Seem to Increase Breast Cancer Risk

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Your personal risk of breast cancer is the result of many factors. Some of these factors, such as your genes and your family history, are things you can’t control. Other factors, such as what you eat, maintaining a healthy weight, and minimizing your exposure to chemicals in the environment, are things you have more control over.

A Canadian study suggests that certain jobs, including those in farming and manufacturing that expose women to high levels of carcinogens and endocrine disrupters, seem to increase breast cancer risk.

The study was published online on Nov. 19, 2012 by Environmental Health. Read the abstract of “Breast cancer risk in relation to occupations with exposure to carcinogens and endocrine disruptors: a Canadian case-control study.”

Carcinogens are substances that are known to cause cancer.

Endocrine disruptors can affect how estrogen and other hormones act in the body, by blocking them or mimicking them, which throws off the body's hormonal balance. Because estrogen can make hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer develop and grow, many women choose to limit their exposure to these chemicals that can act like estrogen and other hormones.

In the study, researchers compared the work and reproductive histories of 1,006 Canadian women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer to 1,147 similar women who hadn’t been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Overall, women who held jobs that had potentially high exposure to carcinogens and endocrine disrupters had higher breast cancer risk compared to women who didn’t work in these jobs, including:

  • agricultural jobs (about 35% higher risk)
  • jobs in bars or casinos (more than twice the risk)
  • automotive plastics manufacturing jobs (nearly three times the risk)
  • food canning jobs (more than twice the risk)
  • metalworking jobs (about 75% higher risk)

The risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer before menopause was highest in women who worked in the automotive plastics and food canning industries.

Research suggests that all plastics may leach chemicals if they’re scratched or heated. Since most automotive plastics are heated to high temperatures and then molded into various parts, leaching is likely to happen in the manufacturing process.

Research also strongly suggests that at certain exposure levels, some of the chemicals in plastic products, such as bisphenol A (BPA), may cause cancer in people. BPA is an endocrine disrupter found in many rigid plastic products, food and formula can linings, dental sealants, and on the shiny side of paper cashier receipts (to stabilize the ink).

If you work in a factory and think you’re being exposed to substances that could possibly increase your risk of breast cancer, talk about your concerns with your manager or someone in the company’s occupational health department.

Switching jobs can be difficult to do, especially in the current economy. If finding a new job isn’t possible, try to do everything you can in other areas of your life to minimize the breast cancer risk factors you can control, including:

  • eating a healthy diet that’s low in processed foods and sugar
  • avoiding alcohol
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • exercising daily
  • not smoking

To learn more about breast cancer risk factors, visit the Breastcancer.org Lower Your Risk section.

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