Tackling occupational cancer should mean preventing it, not taking a ‘3 monkeys’ approach

Press Release

13/3/13

smaller poster copy (2)

Photo-op 8.30am Thursday 14th March, British Library, Gate No 5 Midland Road.

Campaigners against occupational and environmental cancer will hold a photo op outside the British Library, HSE conference on Tackling Occupational Diseases.  Women’s work-cancer is almost totally ignored by the HSE so campaigners will leave bras behind as a protest against the denial, delay and dithering that will kill more women from breast cancer especially.

Government, employers and the Health and Safety Executive are consigning thousands of workers to occupational cancer by their ‘3 monkeys’ approach to ‘tackling’ occupational disease.  Occupational cancer kills up to 18,000 men and women each year (1) yet action on prevention has been side-lined in favour of yet more research, and still work-related cancer in women is virtually ignored condemning more women to suffer and die.

HSE’s old fashioned, outdated approaches miss many modern workplace risks but especially ignore women’s cancers, specifically breast cancer, as researchers have recently shown (2, 3).  Campaigners will reinforce this point by leaving their bras outside the British Library as a protest against this approach.

“The Hazards Campaign has accused the HSE of dithering, denying and delaying over occupational cancer, and employers and government are also guilty of doing almost nothing on prevention for all work-cancers.  But this ‘3 monkeys’ approach is especially deadly for work-related cancer in women which has been completely ignored, under-researched and so much less likely to be targeted for preventative action.”  Said Hilda Palmer of the Hazards Campaign.

“Occupational and environmental breast cancer is largely preventable and we hope this strategic meeting organised by the HSE will call for that.  For female cancers, specifically breast cancer, not to act now in a precautionary way, applying existing knowledge to reduce the occupational and environmental risk factors could be viewed as an act of wilful neglect.”  Said Helen Lynn from the Alliance for Cancer Prevention.

Traditional approaches to try and regulate the amount of exposure to certain chemicals in occupational and environmental settings are unworkable in light of what we know about chemicals which interfere with our endocrine systems (the body’s messenger system).  These endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are intrinsically linked with cancer and act singularly and in combination to increase the risk of breast and other cancers.

WHO estimates that as much as 24% of human diseases and disorders are at least partly due to environmental factors including chemical exposures. The report states: “Many endocrine diseases and disorders are on the rise and the speed at which they are increasing rules out genetic factors as the sole plausible explanation” (4)

Recent research highlighting excesses of breast cancer in occupations such as agricultural, automotive plastics, and food canning industries found women workers had elevated breast cancer risk, up to 5 times higher than the controls in certain sectors such as automotive plastics (3)

And yet another paper on the issue stated: “Primary prevention of cancer of environmental and occupational origin reduces cancer incidence and mortality, and is highly cost effective; in fact, it is not just socially beneficial because it reduces medical and other costs, but because it avoids many human beings suffering from cancer.” (5)

The United Steelworkers union in the US has acted immediately on this research by alerting their members and calling for substitution, chemical law reform and health and safety improvements.(6)

Yet the UK cancer establishment continued to assure women there is no need to worry and falls back on the archaic and limited risk reduction strategy of better diet, more exercise and limiting alcohol. (7)

Hilda Palmer of the Hazards campaign says: “We want this HSE meeting to make publicly explicit the extent, and preventable nature, of all occupational cancers; that prevention must be prioritised by government, employers and the HSE; that exposure to all cancer risks must be eliminated or reduced to as low a level as possible, and that women’s cancer risks must now be targeted for prevention”

Helen Lynn. Alliance for Cancer Prevention 07960033687
www.allianceforcancerprevention.org.uk

Hilda Palmer. Hazards Campaign: 079298 00240
www.hazardscampaign.org.uk

Event photo here.

Notes to Editor:

  1. Burying the evidence Hazards Magazine.
  2. ‘This man knows all about cancer Article on the work of Simon Pickvance. Hazards 117, Rory O’Neill
  3. J. T. Brophy et al., “Breast Cancer Risk in Relation to Occupations with Exposure to Carcinogens and Endocrine Disruptors: A Canadian Case-Control Study,Environmental Health 11(87) (2012): 1-17, doi: 10.1186/1476-069X-11-87
  4. WHO/UNEP report on the State of the Science for Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals Report.
  5. Espina C, Porta M, et al. Environmental and Occupational Interventions for Primary Prevention of Cancer: A Cross-Sectorial Policy Framework. Environ Health Perspect. Advanced publication here.
  6. United Steelworkers Hazards Alert on occupational breast cancer.
  7. Does your job increase your breast cancer risk? Breakthrough comments on the recent research published in Canada that links occupation to an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Here.