Workers Health & Safety Centre

New tool links jobs, chemicals to increased breast cancer risk

New research which gathers information on workplace chemicals of concern for breast cancer and likelihood of wide exposure reveals need for increased research AND action.
The study, published in the journal New Solutions, was led by researchers at the University of California San Francisco with a team of occupational and public health specialists. The research is an important addition to occupational health studies which have historically underrepresented women. It lends support to those who have been calling for more routine collection of occupational chemical exposure data. Most important, the study and its related data tool offer critical information to researchers, policymakers and to workers and their representatives in the pursuit of occupational cancer prevention efforts. 

Connecting jobs and chemicals of concern

For this study, researchers set out to identify and categorize two things:
1) the occupations that employ women in California and
2) workplace chemicals linked to breast cancer.
Drawing data from the American Community Survey (2010 to 2014) researchers selected 145 occupations representing more than 6.6 million women, or 85 per cent of California working women. Another sixteen occupations for informal workers were selected to ensure representation of domestic workers, agriculture workers, janitors and custodians and others.
Using existing data, researchers identified 1,012 chemicals of concern for breast cancer including endocrine-disrupting chemicals (850), mammary gland carcinogens (174) and developmental toxins (108). They then organized these into 25 categories based on chemical properties and/or usage characteristics, with some chemicals falling into more than one category.
Working with industrial hygienists, the researchers also created Job-Exposure Matrices to evaluate the likelihood (probable, possible, unlikely) of on-the-job exposure to the categories of chemicals by occupation.  

Chemical exposures are widespread

While this latest research does not assess causal links between exposures and disease, it does add to the knowledge of occupational exposure to chemicals of concern for breast cancer and identifies gaps for the basis of further exploration.

The researchers found:
  • More than 80 per cent of occupations researched had possible or probable exposure to at least one category of chemicals
  • Phthalates (many are endocrine disruptors; several are mammary gland developmental toxicants) were the most common chemical exposure.

To make these findings more accessible, especially for workers, the researchers worked with a data visualization firm to develop an interactive online tool. Along with occupation and chemical category, the tool allows users to review and search the data by ethnicity/race and age. Although for Ontario workers the mapping of potential chemical exposures by occupation provides the most useful information.

Other exposures increase risk too

This study builds upon earlier Canadian research which focused on breast cancer risk in relation to occupations with exposure to carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.
The Toronto-based Occupational Cancer Research Cancer also identifies other exposures or occupations which may increase the risk of breast cancer including ethylene oxide, polychlorinated biphenyls and shiftwork that involves circadian disruption.

WHSC can help

The Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC) can also assist workplace prevention efforts with quality training and information services. In addition to GHS WHMIS training, our new Chemical Hazards program is available through our Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) Certification Part II General Stream, but it can also be delivered as a standalone course to all workplace parties.

For workplaces looking to certify their JHSC, we offer legally mandatory JHSC Certification training – critical to equipping workplace representatives in their efforts to protect workers from occupational carcinogens and other workplace hazards. If your workplace employs 20 or more workers or has a designated substance onsite a JHSC is also required. Employers must also "carry out" Certification training for at least two members of the JHSC, one worker representative and one management representative, including approved JHSC Certification Part IJHSC Certification Part II and JHSC Certification Refresher. These programs are offered in safe, convenient WHSC virtual classrooms.

Don’t see what you need? Beyond scheduled classes, and where participant numbers warrant, we can work with you to coordinate almost any of our training courses for all workers, workplace representatives and supervisors.

WHSC related resources:
Flight attendants experiencing cancer at higher rates, says new research
Exposure to night shift work when young raises risk of breast cancer
Contact a WHSC training services representative in your area.
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