Research findings: Chemical exposures contributing to elevated breast cancer risk in some occupations

Text Size: Normal / Medium / Large
Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

National Network on Environments and Women's Health


TORONTO, ON (November 19, 2012) A new Canadian study conducted by co-principal investigators James Brophy and Margaret Keith and an international, multidisciplinary team of co-investigators demonstrates that women working in particular occupations have an increased risk of developing breast cancer. The National Network on Environments and Women's Health (NNEWH) partnered with Brophy and Keith in the study's exposure assessment of automotive plastics workers in the Windsor, Ontario region. The research results are a valuable addition to growing evidence linking breast cancer and other diseases with exposure to toxic chemicals, and in particular, toxins in the workplace.

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canadian women. The research was primarily funded by the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. “Over the last 25 years mortality rates for breast cancer have declined by nearly 40% but incidence rates have remained the same, with one in nine Canadian women getting breast cancer in her lifetime, ” said Sandra Palmaro, CEO, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation – Ontario Region. “This research provides new evidence about workplace risks associated with breast cancer that we hope will lead to a better understanding of how to prevent the disease.”

Women who are exposed to carcinogens and endocrine disrupting chemicals at work may be at a greater risk for developing cancer. Many plastics have been found to release estrogenic and carcinogenic chemicals. Significantly, women working with plastics in the automotive industry for ten years were found to be more than twice as likely to develop breast cancer, with women in that sector who are pre-menopausal being five times more likely.

The occupational risks associated with breast cancer are a neglected area of research. This study clearly demonstrates the value of including detailed work histories in the environmental and occupational epidemiology of breast cancer. “Women are regularly overlooked in occupational health studies and, consequently, there is very little research on the impact of chemical exposures on women in the workplace,” notes Anne Rochon Ford, Executive Director of the Canadian Women’s Health Network. “This is a vital contribution to not only the field of women’s health research, but occupational health research as well.”

The federal regulatory regime and provincial occupational health and safety standards have not adequately responded to new understandings about the health effects from environmental exposures. Women’s elevated exposures to toxics and the fact that the incidence of adverse health outcomes is influenced by sex and gender demands a precautionary approach to preventing disease. “This research supports a growing understanding that when it comes to endocrine disrupting chemicals, even low doses can be dangerous” stated Dayna Nadine Scott, Director of NNEWH. “We are exposed to these chemicals at home, in the workplace and in the environment – it’s time to demand a regulatory response that is integrated and health-protective for everyone.”

A Summary of the Research Findings and the full study, tables and references can be found below, and on the website of the National Network on Environments and Women’s Health ( For more information, please contact the National Network on Environments and Women’s Health at or 416-736-2100 ext. 20711 and the Canadian Women’s Health Network at or 204-470-1825. 

Production of this press release has been made possible through a financial contribution from Health Canada. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of Health Canada. 

NNEWH Summary Research Findings ENGLISH.pdf116.86 KB
Case Control Study - Final Manuscript Nov 12, 2012.pdf1.05 MB
NNEWH Press Release Nov 19 2012.pdf94.92 KB