A new summary of the science makes a strong case for occupational links to breast cancer and calls on Congress, regulators and researchers to pay more attention to chemical exposures and other risk factors.
“Working Women and Breast Cancer: The State of the Evidence,” is the product of more than two years of work overseen by the San Francisco-based Breast Cancer Fund. A panel of experts reviewed scientific studies, most published in the past 25 years, and found ties between the disease and exposures to solvents; pesticides; tobacco smoke; ionizing radiation and other toxic materials. There also was an association with night shift work.
“Research is inadequate, but there is enough to raise alarm about women’s work, occupational exposures and breast cancer,” the report concludes. “At the same time, policies are insufficient to protect worker health.”
The report touches on a subject raised by the Center for Public Integrity’s “Unequal Risk” project, launched in June. The series noted that enforceable workplace exposure limits for many toxic substances don’t exist, and those that have been set by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration in most cases aren’t protective. As the Breast Cancer Fund put it, “women and men in the workplace are routinely exposed to levels of chemicals that would not be allowed in their homes. The relatively lax requirements of some occupational settings lead to both higher levels and longer exposure periods than would otherwise occur in a residential or commercial setting.”