Study Finds Potential Link Between Ovarian Cancer And Particular Occupation


A recent study, published in the BMJ Journals on July 10, has shed light on a potential link between certain occupations and an increased risk of ovarian cancer among women.

The research suggests that women employed in various roles such as beauticians, hairdressers, accountants, and retail workers may face a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer, likely due to frequent exposure to substances with carcinogenic properties.

Coauthor of the study who works as a professor in the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Montreal, Anita Koushik, PhD, says that the study results are still preliminary, though.

“Our study was exploratory. We need more research to be able to identify and confirm which occupational hazards really do lead to cancer development among females,” says Dr. Koushik.

The Connection Between Your Job and Cancer Risk

To explore the possible connections between specific professionals and ovarian cancer risk, a team of researchers, led by Dr. Koushik and associated with the University of Montreal, conducted a comparative analysis. They examined approximately 500 local women who had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and nearly 900 women who did not have cancer.

The study also gathered regarding these women’s careers and the duration of their employment in their respective fields.

The analysis identified 29 potential carcinogens, including substances like bleach, dyes, talcum powder (commonly found in makeup and hair products), and synthetic fibers. The study uncovered a positive association between 20 different occupations and the risk of ovarian cancer.

Among the notable findings, the risk of ovarian cancer more than tripled for hairdressers and beauticians who had been in their profession for a decade or more. This elevated risk is believed to be attributed to their frequent exposure to bleach and hair dyes.

Similarly, accountants who had spent a decade or longer in their roles were found to have a doubled risk of ovarian cancer, possibly due to the sedentary nature of their work. Women working in sewing or embroidery professions, which often involve handling synthetic and polyester fibers, faced an 85 percent higher chance of developing ovarian cancer.

The study also suggested that stenographers and bookkeepers had an increased risk of ovarian cancer. However, due to the limited number of subjects in this category, the specific materials responsible for the heightened risk could not be pinpointed.

Dr. Koushik also pointed out that it’s essential to note that the study’s small sample sizes for each profession limit its ability to draw broad conclusions about overall risks. Therefore, the findings should not be interpreted as a call for women to avoid these occupations but rather as a call for further research into occupational hazards specific to women.

Do Particular Chemicals Increase the Risk of Ovarian Cancer?

While the study identifies correlations between particular jobs and ovarian cancer, it doesn’t establish causation. Dr. Katherine LaVigne Mager, an assistant professor in gynecologic oncology at the Roswell Cancer Center, emphasizes that the role of these materials in causing ovarian cancer remains unclear. Ovarian cancer is a relatively rare condition, making it challenging to collect extensive data.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), most women have a 1.3 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer. Dr. Mager highlights the need for additional research in this area and does not recommend lifestyle changes for women working in these professions based solely on these findings.

Dr. Mager explains, “I think that it’s very important that we look at data like this and dig a little bit deeper into these individual chemical products and exposures, and work to see if we can figure out a mechanism there that makes sense.”

Here Are the Known Risk Factors for Ovarian Cancer

As noted by the ACS, there are several risk factors for ovarian cancer in addition to occupational factors. These include older age, late-in-life or no childbearing, overweight or obesity, hormone therapy after menopause, and a family history of ovarian, breast or colorectal cancer.

Is There a Link Between Baby Powder and Ovarian Cancer?

Regarding the potential link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer, it’s essential to clarify that talcum powder itself is not considered a carcinogen. Despite several lawsuits filed due to talc powder in the genital area caused ovarian cancer in women, studies have found that talcum powder alone is not a carcinogen.

However, talc, the main component of talcum powder, is naturally mined from the earth, and sometimes, it may contain asbestos which is a well-known carcinogen, according to the ACS.

A 2018 investigation by Reuters revealed that Johnson & Johnson, a major manufacturer of baby powder, had been aware for decades that asbestos could occasionally be present in its product.

In Summary, this study provides valuable insights into potential risk factors for ovarian cancer associated with certain occupations, highlighting the need for further research in this field. While the findings are significant, they do not establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship and should be considered within the broader context of known risk factors for ovarian cancer.