Bluffs Advocate

Workplace Health

Preventing Occupational Breast Cancer

Learn about the risks and consult your medical and workplace resources

By Katelyn Brouse

            Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer to affect Canadian women. It is estimated that in 2013, 23,800 women and 200 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Breast cancer is often talked about and publicized. The pink ribbon signifying breast cancer awareness and support can be seen everywhere. However, it’s not well known that exposures at your job or any jobs you worked in the past could put you at risk for occupational breast cancer.
        A risk factor is anything that affects your chance of getting a disease, such as cancer. Along with general risk factors for breast cancer, including gender, aging, family history, obesity, alcohol and genetics, there are also work-related risk factors.
        Exposure to pesticides, chemicals used and released in plastic manufacturing, and chemicals used for motor vehicle mechanical work may increase the risk of breast cancer. Also, there is evidence linking shift work and disruption in the sleep cycle to increased risk of breast cancer. These risk factors can affect the way that hormones work in the body, putting the body at risk for breast cancer.
        So what can you do to help decrease your risk of getting occupational breast cancer? Know what you are working with. Look at your workplace’s Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to learn more about any hazardous materials you work with. Wear the proper personal protective equipment that is required for your job. Complete Workplace Hazardous Materials Information Systems (WHMIS) training if you haven’t done so already. WHMIS training can give you valuable information about hazardous materials in the workplace and how you can protect yourself.
        You should also free to discuss any health and safety concerns with your worker representative(s) on the Joint Health & Safety Committee in your workplace, and consider speaking with your union representative if your concerns have not been addressed by the Joint Health & Safety Committee. As well, consider seeing a doctor who specializes in occupational health. If you have concerns about occupational breast cancer, a doctor who specializes in occupational health may have more information for you than your family physician.
        Along with what you can do at work to lower your risk of breast cancer, you can eat a healthy diet, exercise, get a good night’s sleep and stay away from tobacco smoke.
        Frequent screening is the best way to detect breast cancer early. Talk to your health care professional about screening methods and look into local breast cancer screening programs.
        For more information about occupational breast cancer and prevention and detection, please visit www.ufcw.ca to download a free information sheet about Occupational Breast Cancer.

Katelyn Brouse is a fourth year nursing student at Laurentian University completing a placement at the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW), Sudbury Office.

UFCW