US public health body wants breast cancer prevention

An American Public Health Association (APHA) policy statement on ‘Breast Cancer and Occupation: The Need for Action’ is thought to be the first such call by a major public health body on breast cancer and the risks faced by women due to the hazards in the work environment.

The policy statement says “gender and social class bias” could explain the lack of research and preventive efforts on occupational breast cancer. It concludes: “Action required starts with making a national priority of promoting and supporting research on occupational and other environmental causes of breast cancer. Other public health actions include hazard surveillance and primary prevention activities such as reductions in the use of toxic materials, informed substitution, and green chemistry efforts.”

The related webpage includes detailed information on the research establishing a clear occupational breast cancer risk. The impetus for the resolution came from a groundbreaking study by Stirling University’s Jim Brophy, Margaret Keith, Andy Watterson and others, who in a 2012 paper revealed that working in a “toxic soup” of chemicals can double a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer (Risks 583).

High risk jobs included those in agriculture, plastics, food packaging, metal manufacture and the bar and gambling industry, according the study. The research led to prevention initiatives and calls worldwide, including a campaign by the North American steelworkers’ union USW (Risks 594). APHA is the largest and oldest public health organisation in the world.

Breast Cancer and Occupation: The Need for Action, APHA, agreed November 2014, posted online January 2015. Risks 686, 17 January 2015. Stirling University news release.

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