European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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31 August 2015

Breast cancer and work: damning figures from the United States

A report published in August 2015 by the Breast Cancer Fund in the United States contains damning figures on the role of working conditions in breast cancer. Based on a detailed review of the most recent scientific literature, the report confirms previously observed associations between various professions and breast cancer.

Among nurses, the risk increased by 50 %. It is 4 times higher among professionals. New associations have become apparent in recent research. The risk of breast cancer is 5 times higher in the hairdressing and cosmetics sectors, as also among food and beverage production workers. It is 4.5 times higher among dry cleaning and laundry workers. It is 4 times higher among workers in the paper and printing industry and among those making rubber and plastic products.

The report lists the occupational risks explaining these figures. These risks mainly stem from a series of chemicals such as benzene and other solvents, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), pesticides and numerous other endocrine disruptors. Night work and ionising radiation are also at the root of breast cancer.

In Europe, according to 2012 data, over 350 000 new cases of breast cancer were reported in 2012, leading to over 90 000 deaths. The vast majority of breast cancers affect women, for whom it is the leading cause of cancer death. In the various European countries, the incidence of these cancers is clearly on the rise.

For Laurent Vogel, a researcher at ETUI, this study confirms that prevention failures in the workplace are significantly contributing to the rise in cancer. ‘Over the last 10 years, Community policies on occupational health have been in deadlock. This situation is increasing social inequalities in health. As regards breast cancers, which are hormone-dependent cancers, the European Commission’s lack of response to the problem posed by endocrine disruptors and its kowtowing to industrial lobbies is hindering effective prevention in the workplace’, he has stated.

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