A US team of occupational health and other medical experts have developed a new tool to examine the breast cancer risks that working women in California face, which may be of use for looking at the risks women working in other parts of the world face too.

The online project has been funded by the California Breast Cancer Research Program (CBCRP) which says it has concerns that “women — particularly women of color —have been vastly underrepresented in research into the risks of cancer that may be associated with workplace exposures”.

According to the CBCRP, an estimated 80,000 chemicals are used in US commerce, offering substantial opportunities for occupational exposures. While only a small fraction of these chemicals have been tested to see if they cause cancer, at least 200 have been shown to cause mammary tumours in animals. However, the potential role of these compounds in the development of breast cancer in humans has historically been understudied and remains poorly understood.

To address these gaps in knowledge about the risks of cancer associated with workplace chemical exposures, CBCRP is funding the Women’s Occupations and Risks from Chemicals (WORC) project run by a team of epidemiology and occupational health experts at the US’s Public Health Institute, the California Department of Public Health, and the University of California San Francisco.

An important first step in the project towards understanding breast cancer risks associated with occupational exposures has been to map out women’s employment patterns in California and what chemical exposures are likely to occur in the jobs where substantial numbers of women work.

The WORC project interactive tool can be used to visualise existing data on women’s occupational exposures and identify data gaps, allowing users to explore exposures by occupation, ethnicity/race and age.

Many of the jobs identified by the tool are relevant to working life in other parts of the world and may therefore be useful for those interested in breast cancer risks associated with UK workplaces.

Last reviewed 9 September 2019