When asked about causes of breast cancer, many people think about genetics and familial risk. This may, in part, be due to research in the area being dominated by SNP experts. Yet the proportion of breast cancer accounted for by an inherited faulty gene is less than 3%.1

The proportion of breast cancer accounted for by an inherited faulty gene is less than 3%.

With expertise on lifestyle change, the SCPN disseminates a lot of information on preventability through behavioural change. Current estimates for lifestyle, range between 19 and 38%, which can be accounted for by excess body weight, alcohol and physical inactivity.

Other causes of breast cancer have pointed to the work environment as a culprit, and these deserve further investigation.
The American Public Health Association have recently issued a statement on breast cancer and occupation.2 They present a stark reminder of how research on industrial toxins and cancer risk is grossly under-funded in favour of other areas, and point the finger at powerful industries who do not spontaneously prioritise the health of female workers. In their statement, they say that “until recently, women’s occupational health hazards continued to be mostly invisible, and studied inadequately and infrequently despite womens’ long time participation in the workforce.”

High rates of breast cancer in women employed in automotive plastics, food canning, agriculture, bars/gambling and metalwork as well as fire fighters merit investigation. Chemicals in the production of plastics and additives (e.g phthalates) and starting chemicals (e.g bisphenol A) have created considerable cause for concern.  The association between night work and breast cancer (associated with potential disruption of circadian rhythm) is also a key area for further research.

Surely it is time for primary prevention of breast cancer to focus on elimination of work related and other environmental carcinogens as well as genetic, reproductive and lifestyle factors.

– Annie

Professor Annie S Anderson BSc PhD RD FRCP (Edin)


1 Cancer Research UK Inherited Genes and Specific Cancers http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancers-in-general/causes-symptoms/genes-and-inherited-cancer-risk/inherited-genes-and-cancer-risk/inherited-genes-and-specific-cancers 16th January 2015

2 American Public Health Association Breast Cancer and Occupation: The Need for Action http://www.apha.org/policies-and-advocacy/public-health-policy-statements/policy-database/2015/01/07/14/55/breast-cancer-and-occupation 16th January 2015

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