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New study targets high-risk occupations for breast cancer

Women employed in such sectors as automotive plastics and food canning where there are potentially high exposures to carcinogens and endocrine disruptors have an elevated risk for developing breast cancer, according to a new study published today.

“This really demonstrates that occupational exposure is a very important influence on the rates of this disease,” said Jim Brophy, who along with fellow adjunct sociology professor Margaret Keith, co-authored a paper on a research study published in the academic journal Environmental Health.

Between 2002 and 2008, the study’s authors – who included sociology professor Eleanor Maticka-Tyndale – recruited 1,005 women throughout Essex and Kent counties who had been diagnosed with breast cancer, collecting data on their occupational and reproductive histories, and compared them with 1,147 control subjects.

The study found that specific sectors with elevated risk included agriculture, bars and gambling, automotive plastics manufacturing, food canning, and metalworking. The highest risk sector for premenopausal breast cancer was in the automotive plastics sector, the study found.

Participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire that captured data on such reproductive risk factors as menstrual and menopausal history, use of hormone replacement therapy and oral contraceptives, and family history. They were also asked about demographic and lifestyle risk factors, including income, education, physical activity, weight and body mass index, alcohol use, smoking history, and residential history. Employment history included start and end dates for up to 12 jobs, as well as descriptions of job activities which were used to categorize occupation, industry and exposure.

The findings are significant, Brophy said, because research regarding occupational exposures and breast cancer risk has generally been a neglected topic. He said there are only three previously published studies of occupation and breast cancer similar to the present one that include detailed work and reproductive histories.

“Work-history based occupational breast cancer studies often lack demographic and reproductive status information,” the paper says. “Studies with adequate demographic and reproductive status information often lack detailed work history data beyond current employment.”

Brophy and Keith will discuss their findings at a public meeting that begins at 7:30 p.m. tonight at The Hospice of Windsor and Essex County, 6038 Empress Street. Doors open at 7 p.m.