The most influential public health organization in the world, the American Public Health Association (APHA), recently adopted the University of Stirling‘s pioneering solution for the increased risk of breast cancer among women in certain occupations. The publication, titled “Breast Cancer and Occupation: A Need for Action,” was created by Drs. James Brophy and Margaret Keith of the University’s Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group (OEHRG).
APHA’s assimilation of the new resolution is a leap of progress in public health policy, as it underscores the need for effective primary prevention and strengthened commitment to research on occupational health in the United Kingdom and North America – the world’s leading countries in breast cancer rates.
“Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer in women across the globe but the majority of women do not have the known or suspected risk factors, therefore more attention to the exposures and hazards faced by women at work is required,” said Dr. Brophy in a news release, as occupational health remains one of the most neglected facets of medical research today.
Several occupations have been known to increase women’s risk of developing breast cancer, such as metalworking, bars and gambling workplaces and the manufacture of tinned food, rubber and plastics. Dr. Brophy explained, “Until recently, women’s occupational health hazards continued to be mostly invisible, studied inadequately and infrequently despite women’s long-time participation in the workforce. This lack of gender perspective, and hence gender bias comes at a price: working women’s health.”
Another source of elevated breast cancer risk are endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which have been clinically proved to induce breast tumors in animal models. The World Health Organization, the European Union and the Endocrine Society released their own public health reports on the dangers of EDCs, with the Society’s report stating the notable rise in breast cancer rates over the past 50 years may be linked to “hormonally active chemicals”.
“UK industries, professional bodies and regulators have often been slow to act in dealing with hazards and risks linked to occupational breast cancer and other cancers,” said Professor Andrew Watterson of Stirling’s OEHRG. “Reputable researchers have recently estimated that there are around 2000 new registrations of breast cancer in women every year and around 550 deaths in Great Britain due primarily to work-related breast cancer linked to night shift working alone. The APHA report identifies many other substances and processes linked to breast cancer that would indicate the Great Britain morbidity and mortality rate will be far higher from this preventable cause of disease. It is hoped that within the UK, public health bodies will follow the initiative taken by APHA on occupational cancer prevention generally and occupational breast cancer in particular”, he added.
“We welcome the APHA policy and want to see bodies such as Public Health England follow suit. Organisations like Public Health England and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) do women a gross disservice by not acknowledging that EDCs can harm at extremely low doses in the workplace and beyond and therefore cannot be regulated and must be banned,” said Helen Lynn, Coordinator of the Alliance for Cancer Prevention. “We now know that the safest exposure to EDCs is no exposure. The HSE must follow suit with urgent action on shift work. We want to see a commitment to valuing women’s lives and to following the ground-breaking example set by the APHA.”