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Some jobs that expose workers to potential hormone-disrupting chemicals have been associated with a 42 percent increased risk of developing breast cancer, according to the results of a study published in Environmental Health.[1]

A 2009 scientific statement from the Endocrine Society identified a variety of endocrine-disrupting chemicals that affect male and female reproduction, breast development and cancer, prostate cancer, neuroendocrinology, thyroid, metabolism, obesity, and cardiovascular endocrinology.[2] Some of these endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemicals are present in occupational environments, such as agricultural and industrial settings.

Researchers from Canada conducted a study to examine the links between breast cancer risk and occupation, particularly farming and manufacturing. The study involved 1,006 women with breast cancer and 1,146 women without the disease. The women were living Essex and Kent counties in Ontario, where there are a variety of agricultural and industrial occupations. What’s more—the region has a “cluster” of breast cancer cases, making it an ideal location for studying the effects of occupation on breast cancer risk.

The researchers found that over a period of 10 years and across all sectors, women in jobs with high exposures to carcinogens and endocrine disruptors had an increased risk of breast cancer. Women who worked in agriculture had a 34 percent increased risk of developing breast cancer, while those who worked in automotive plastics manufacturing, food canning, and those who spent time in bars, racetracks, or casinos had double the risk of those with other occupations. Even after adjusting for other factors that are associated with breast cancer risk (such as smoking, weight, number of children, age at first menstruation, age at menopause, and use of hormone replacement therapy), the association between breast cancer risk and certain jobs remained. The researchers speculated that the increased risk is likely connected to the occupations, rather than exposure to carcinogens in the region, because women living in the same region but with different occupations did not experience the same rate of cancer.

The researchers concluded that occupational exposure to certain endocrine-disrupting chemicals could increase the risk of breast cancer by as much as 42 percent. Not all women who work in these occupations will develop breast cancer, as other factors such as genetics and the length of exposure, also contribute to the risk.

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[1] Brophy JT, Keith MM, Watterson A, et al. Breast cancer risk in relation to occupations with exposure to carcinogens and endocrine disruptors: a Canadian case–control study. Environmental Health. Published online November 19, 2012.


[2] Diamanti-Kandarakis E, et al. 2009 Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals: An Endocrine Society Scientific Statement. Endocrine Reviews. 2009; 30(4): 293-342.

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