Breast cancer link to shiftwork confirmed
Nearly 2,000 women contract breast cancer every year in the UK because they work night shifts, according to a new report. The figure, published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), is based on 2005 data and attributes 1,969 new cases of breast cancer and 555 deaths from the disease that year to shiftwork. It says: 'The estimate of nearly 2,000 breast cancer registrations due to shiftwork in our study is 54 per cent of all female occupationally-related cancer registrations.' Professor Andrew Watterson, head of occupational health research at Stirling University, urged HSE last year to act on international evidence confirming the link between breast cancer and shifts (Risks 407). However, HSE chief medical adviser John Osman, quoted in Hazards magazine in May 2009, responded: 'At present HSE does not think the evidence on a cancer risk is compelling enough to require more of employers than is already required of them in respect of protecting the health of employees who do shift work.' HSE's 2006 shiftwork guidance makes no mention of breast cancer risks, and HSE has made no specific recommendations on measures to protect workers. Professor Watterson commented: 'Shiftworkers should be aware of this issue. There are things which can be done to reduce their risk if they have to work shifts at night. There are ways of reducing the impact and people who have a choice may want to remove themselves from that setting.' A spokesperson for HSE said: 'In the light of these findings, this is clearly an area which needs more research. We are actively monitoring and assessing this issue.' HSE appears to discount a large body of literature on other work-related causes of breast cancer, with the deaths attributed almost entirely to shifts. A study published in April concluded exposure to certain chemicals at work could massively increase breast cancer risks (Risks 451).
The Herald. The burden of occupational cancer in Great Britain, research report 800, HSE, 2010 [pdf]. While you were sleeping, Hazards magazine, number 106, Summer 2000.
Issued: 7 May, 2010