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Workplaces govern breast cancer risk

Women with breast cancer were almost three times more likely to have worked in farming at some point in their lives, says a study.

india Updated: Oct 13, 2006 21:38 IST

Exposure to chemicals, radiation and electromagnetic fields is thought by many to increase the risk in workers.

Now Professor Andrew Watterson, of Stirling University, has estimated at least 12 per cent of breast cancer deaths in Scotland could be linked to the workplace. This amounted to 137 deaths a year.

But Prof Watterson said that the actual percentage of breast cancers caused by work may actually be much higher than 12 per cent, and certainly greater than the 4 per cent estimated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Campaigners said that women needed to be made more aware of the risks they may face while at work.

Prof Watterson's estimates came as a study by researchers in Stirling and Canada showed that women with breast cancer were more likely to work in certain occupations, such as farming and manufacturing.

The research collected information from 1,100 women in Canada - half diagnosed with breast cancer.

Women with breast cancer were almost three times more likely to have worked in farming at some point in their lives compared with those without the cancer.

Women who also went on to work in the car manufacturing industry faced a fourfold increased risk, while those who went on to work in healthcare had a two-fold higher risk. Prof Watterson said workplace links to cancer were a major public-health issue.

"This is pretty serious stuff. We probably seriously underestimate the contribution of workplace factors to cancer," he was quoted by the Scotsman, as saying.

"Much more work is needed to identify the biggest risks and how to reduce their impact."

Prof Watterson said there were many more industries and occupations in Scotland where women might be exposed to factors which could increase the risk of cancer.

This included office workers exposed to electromagnetic fields from computer equipment and chemical exposure in the pharmaceutical industries and engineering environments.

Moira Adams, of the Scottish Breast Cancer Campaign, said it already had concerns about cancer risks in the workplace.

"Around 45 per cent of breast cancers can be explained by factors such as genetics, lifestyles and old age," she said.

"But that still leaves 55 per cent unexplained so where is this coming from?

"We want women to be more aware of what they might be exposed to at work and home."