Debate about work cancer links hots up

A union thinktank has welcomed a call for more research and action on the prevention of work-related breast cancer, and has criticised a study that suggested bad luck was the major factor in cancer causation.

The European trade union research institute (ETUI), which has its own health and safety unit, was commenting after the publication of two contrasting reports. One, a resolution from the American Public Health Association (APHA), called for more research and action to address the occupational causes of breast cancer. The other, in the journal Science, suggested most cancers were the result of ‘bad luck’, and largely dismissed the occupational, environmental, socioeconomic and other causes.

According to ETUI: “The organisations struggling to support workers who have fallen victim to cancer as a result of their jobs” will have welcomed the APHA appeal, in contrast to the message of the Science paper. ETUI was critical of the Science paper, which had already been denounced by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and others.

Laurent Vogel, a researcher in the ETUI’s health, safety and working conditions unit, said the paper ignores breast and prostate cancers and “confuses causality with a merely statistical relationship. It bypasses an essential feature that certainly cannot be attributed to individual luck, for it is possible to come up with a social mapping of each form of cancer and to show important links between working conditions and the different locations of cancer in the human body.”

Jim Brophy, whose research for Stirling University prompted the APHA resolution, said: “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.”

ETUI news report. Stirling University news release. Risks 687.

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