Breast Cancer and the Workplace

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

THUNDER BAY – Although breast cancer is often associated with and is more common in women, men are susceptible as well.  According to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, 23, 800 women and 200 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in Canada this year. 

[sws_pullquote_right]Careers most commonly associated with an increased risk of breast cancer include: motor vehicle mechanics, paper makers, painters, forestry workers, farmers and other industrial manufacturing workers [/sws_pullquote_right] Over the past few decades, there has been an increase in the number of cases of breast cancer in Canada.  This is mainly due to an increase in early detection and better testing.  However, research suggests that it may be related to the type of work that a person does as well. 

Careers most commonly associated with an increased risk of breast cancer include: motor vehicle mechanics, paper makers, painters, forestry workers, farmers and other industrial manufacturing workers.

These types of jobs have several potential risk factors.  Risk factors for breast cancer from the workplace may include: shift-work, pollution, and hazardous chemical exposures.  Even the long commute to work in the morning may be connected to breast cancer.  Some studies suggest that workers exposed to pollution from traffic are at a higher risk for breast cancer than those who are not.

The breast itself is essentially made up of fatty tissue.  Fatty tissue is believed to store environmental toxins in the body.  This is due to the fact that many chemicals used in the workplace are “fat loving” meaning that they are easily stored and maintained in fat tissue.  Because of this, working with hazardous chemicals such as pesticides should always be done with caution.   

Shift-work has been connected to changes in the production of chemicals and hormones in the body that help aid in proper sleep.  Not getting a good night’s rest by altering the natural sleep cycle may increase the risk of getting breast cancer.

The other factors mentioned above may be indirectly related to an increase in the risk of breast cancer by altering the levels of estrogen and prolactin found in the body.  Changes in the levels of these hormones may cause an increase in the production of cancer cells.

These risks can be reduced by wearing the appropriate safety equipment and taking the necessary precautions to prevent injury and/or illness at work.  Most importantly, be aware of what you are working with by looking at your employer’s Material Safety Data Sheets [MSDS] and know who to go to if problems arise.  Also, inform your doctor of where you work and what a typical day of work is like for you.  When necessary, give a copy of the MSDS to your doctor during your appointment.

At home and at work, try to maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating a healthy diet, exercising and getting a good night’s sleep.  If possible, avoid cigarette smoke or smoking while at work as this can further increase the chance of getting breast cancer.  If working indoors, try to get some fresh air and exercise on a lunch break by going for a walk outside.  Encourage others to do the same.


By Heather Byrnell.  Heather is a Fourth year of the Health Promotion program at Laurentian University [Bachelor of Physical and Health Education with a Concentration in Health Promotion who worked with the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) in the summer of 2013.  If you require additional information on this subject or any other occupational health subject, please contact us at 705-523

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