The Breast Cancer Fund is preparing for Labor Day with grim news for women: Your job could increase the risk of breast cancer by up to fivefold.
That’s among the conclusions that the nonprofit reaches in a report released this week, “Working Women and Breast Cancer: The State of the Evidence.” It’s based on an analysis of existing scientific literature on female workers and breast cancer and is the first review of its kind, according to the Breast Cancer Fund.
Certain professions put women at higher risk for breast cancer because workers in such fields are exposed to chemicals and other risk factors. Examples of chemical exposure include solvents such as benzene, pesticides and tobacco smoke.
Jeanne Rizzo, president and CEO of the Breast Cancer Fund, states:
“Because workers are often exposed to carcinogenic or toxic substances at regular doses for long periods of time, they are the modern-day canaries in the coal mine.”
According to the report, a well-established body of scientific evidence previously identified five occupational groupings associated with considerably higher risk for breast cancer. The Breast Cancer Fund’s review confirmed that conclusion, reporting the following risk levels for those occupational groupings:
- Nurses – Up to 0.5 times higher risk than the general population
- Teachers – Up to 2 times higher
- Librarians, lawyers, journalists and other professionals – Up to 4 times higher
- Radiological technicians – Up to 2 times higher
- Lab technicians, factory workers and others who work with chemical solvents – Up to 3 times higher
The nonprofit also reports uncovering “a wide range of overlooked professions that deserve additional research and protections”:
- First responders (police, firefighters, military personnel) – Up to 2.5 times higher
- Food and beverage production workers – Up to 5 times higher
- Hairdressers and cosmetologists – Up to 5 times higher
- Manufacturing and machinery workers – Up to 3 times higher
- Doctors, physicians and other medical workers excluding nurses – Up to 3.5 times
- Flight attendants – Up to 2 times higher
- Dry cleaning and laundry workers – Up to 4.5 times higher
- Paper and printing workers – Up to 3 times higher
- Retail and sales personnel – Up to 4 times higher
- Rubber and plastic products workers – Up to 2 times higher
- Textile and clothing workers – Up to 3 times higher
The report cites insufficient federal regulations as a roadblock to making workplaces safer for women.
Charlotte Brody is a registered nurse who is vice president of health initiatives at the BlueGreen Alliance, which brings labor unions and environmental organizations together. In the BCF press release, she says:
“The rules and regulations that are supposed to protect our health and safety at work just aren’t working. The science shows that fewer women would get breast cancer if we did more to control exposures in the workplace. We know what to do to limit toxic chemicals and we need industry and the government to help us do it.”
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