Occupational exposure to synthetic fibers – a possible link with breast cancer

According to a recent report published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, scientists have found that women during her mid 30's exposed to petrol products and synthetic fibers could treble the risk of developing breast cancer after menopause. According to the report, "Occupational exposure to nylon and acrylic fibers as well as to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons has higher risk of developing postmenopausal breast cancer."

However according to Professor David Cogan of Britain's Southampton University such a report should be interpreted wisely. He said that such associations may also come up by chance”. "These sort of positive associations often occur by chance. They carry a little weight in the lack of stronger evidence during our research," he said.

The original researchers also agree with the “chance” factor but say that breast tissue is sensitive to harmful chemicals if active breast cells are exposed to it - in other words, before a woman reaches her 40's.

This research by the Occupational Health Research Institute in Montreal, Canada, led by France Labreche, based their study on 1,100 women. 556 of whom were diagnosed with breast cancer between 1996 to 1997 when they were aged 50 to 75 and had gone through their menopausal stage.

A team of chemists and industrial hygienists investigated the women's levels of exposure to around 300 different substances during their employment history. They were compared to another group of women who were not similarly exposed. They found out that the risk peaked for aged group younger than 36, and increased with each additional decade of exposure before this age.

According to them this means that women exposed to acrylic fibers runs a seven fold risk of breast cancer, while it doubles for those who were exposed to nylon fibers. They however said that a more detailed study was warranted to exactly pinpoint these fibers.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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