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Ground-breaking breast cancer research wins international award

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breast cancer research wins international award

Two breast cancer research studies led by the University of Stirling’s Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group (OEHRG), which found women working in certain occupational sectors face an elevated breast cancer risk, have won an international scientific research award.

The two complementary studies on breast cancer and occupational exposures led by Dr James Brophy and Dr Margaret Keith, of Stirling’s OEHRG and the University of Windsor, Ontario, have won the American Public Health Association (APHA) Occupational Health Section’s Scientific Research Award

Conferral of the award will take place at a ceremony at this year’s APHA annual convention in Boston USA in November.  Dr Brophy will collect the award on behalf of all the researchers and discuss the findings of the two studies in a presentation entitled ‘Breast cancer and work: Why research and preventive action are needed’.  

Dr Brophy says: “As researchers and public health advocates we are delighted with this recognition from what is the oldest and most noteworthy public health association in the world.

“We believe this award will encourage a closer examination of the breast cancer risks faced by countless women employed in a host of chemical-laden industries and will advance the development of precautionary strategies.”

Professor Andrew Watterson, co-author and Head of Stirling’s OEHRG says:  “This award is testimony to the relevance of such research within the breast cancer field, the work of the OEHRG and the high quality doctoral training offered by the University of Stirling.”

Co-investigator, Professor Matthias Beck of Queen's University Management School in Belfast says: “Our studies add to the growing scientific literature pointing to the necessity to eliminate exposures to toxic chemicals in the work environment in order to prevent breast and other cancers.”

He adds: “They also highlight the need for researchers from different areas to collaborate in order to improve our understanding of workplace hazards." 

The selection panel for the award made its recommendation based on the two studies’ exceptional scientific merit.  Dr Eduardo Siqueira MD, chair of the selection panel, said: “The findings of the research conducted by Dr. Brophy et al provide strong evidence that industry has to change the production processes used in manufacturing and agriculture to eliminate exposures to carcinogens”.

Findings from the first of the two studies – a case control study looking at over 2100 women in southwestern Ontario Canada – were published in the open access journal Environmental Health.  The research found a 42 per cent increased breast cancer risk for any women employed in occupations where they were exposed to high levels of chemicals that were identified as either mammary carcinogens or endocrine disrupting chemicals.

It also observed an elevated breast cancer risk among women who worked for ten years in agriculture, food canning, automotive plastic manufacturing, metalworking and casinos or bars.

The second complementary study, published in the journal New Solutions, provided additional evidence to support the findings of the first study.  It was a qualitative piece of research focused on exposures in the automotive plastics industry. It reported workers’ experiences of exposures alongside a review of industrial hygiene consultants’ reports to government and industry.

The research was funded by the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.  Sandra Palmaro, CEO, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation - Ontario Region says: “The Foundation is proud of the work that Dr. Brophy and the team have contributed towards a better understanding of the impact workplace-associated breast cancer risk has on women in Canada.”

She added: “The Foundation would like to congratulate the team on this very prestigious and well deserved award.”


Further information

  • Case control study published in Environmental Health: The Brophy JT, Keith MM, Watterson A, et al. Breast cancer risk in relation to occupations with exposure to carcinogens and endocrine disruptors: a Canadian case-control study. Environmental Health. 2012
  • Qualitative study published in New Solutions: DeMatteo R, Keith MM, Brophy JT, et al. Chemical exposures of women workers in the plastics industry with particular reference to breast cancer and reproductive hazards. New Solutions. 2012;22(4):427-48.
  • Abstract for Dr James Brophy’s forthcoming presentation in Boston.

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