Women in certain jobs ‘may be at higher risk of ovarian cancer’

Hairdressers, beauticians and accountants could be more likely to develop ovarian cancer, study suggests.

Hairdressers, beauticians and accountants could be at a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer, a new study suggests.

Those working in sales, retail, clothing and construction industries could also carry a higher risk according to a new study published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

But the authors of the study stressed that “inferences from the results are limited” as they called for more work to examine the links between ovarian cancer risk and different occupations.

The team, led by academics at the University of Montreal in Canada, examined data on 491 Canadian women with ovarian cancer and compared it with 897 women without disease.

The researchers linked occupations to ovarian cancer risk.

They also compared this data to the Canadian job-exposure matrix to examine any potential workplace exposures – for example, if they are more likely to come in contact with a certain chemical while at work.

After accounting for potentially influential factors, they found that some jobs may be linked to a heightened risk of disease.

Those who had worked as a hairdresser, barber or beautician appeared to have a three-fold higher risk.

Meanwhile, women who worked in accountancy for a decade were twice as likely to develop the disease while construction workers were almost three times as likely.

Shop assistants and sales people had a 45% increased risk while those who make or alter clothes appeared to have an 85% increased risk.

The researchers said that those found to have a higher risk were also more likely to be exposed to a number of “agents” including: cosmetic talc, ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, hair dust, synthetic fibres, polyester fibres, organic dyes, and pigments and bleaches.

“We observed associations suggesting that accountancy, hairdressing, sales, sewing and related occupations may be linked to excess risks,” the authors wrote.

“Further population-based research is needed to evaluate possible hazards for female workers and occupations commonly held by women.”

In a linked editorial, academics from the National Cancer Institute in Maryland in the US, point out that women are under-represented in “occupational cancer research studies”.

They said the study “reminds us that while the lack of representation of women in occupational cancer studies — and indeed, even potential strategies to address this issue — have been long recognised, there is still a need for improvement in studying women’s occupational risks.

“By excluding women, we miss the opportunity to identify risk factors for female-specific cancers, to evaluate whether sex-specific differences in risk occur, and to study exposures occurring in occupations held primarily by women.”

Commenting on the study, Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at the Open University, said: “The researchers clearly state that their study was ‘exploratory’ and that it is ‘aimed at generating new hypotheses’.

“So, it is certainly not claiming that they have definitely found occupational groups, or exposures to chemicals and other agents, that are associated with ovarian cancer.

“Even less are they claiming that being in certain occupations, or being exposed to certain chemicals at work, causes an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

“Instead, they aimed at suggesting occupational groups, and agents to which women might be exposed at work, that possibly might be associated with ovarian cancer risk, and they say clearly that further research is needed to ‘give a more solid grounding’ to any conclusions that might be drawn about associations between what women do at work and their risk of getting ovarian cancer.”

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