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Reaction to the study associating an increased risk of ovarian cancer with professions such as hairdressing and beautician

A Canadian study has examined whether there is a link between occupation and risk of ovarian cancer. After analysing data from nearly 500 women diagnosed with the disease and nearly 900 controls, they found that working for more than ten years in professions such as hairdressing or beauticians triples the risk of ovarian cancer. The risk also increases in occupations such as accountants or those related to the textile industry. The results are published in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

11/07/2023 - 00:30 CEST
Expert reactions

Fidalgo - Ovario (EN)

Alejandro Pérez Fidalgo

Assistant doctor at the Oncology Department of the Hospital Clínico de Valencia and INCLIVA researcher

Science Media Centre Spain

This work is a study carried out by a Canadian group whose aim was to see if the risk of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer was higher in some professions. In addition, if a link was found with an occupation, the authors sought to establish whether a chemical agent in the work environment might be responsible. 

This study is novel for several reasons. First, because women have traditionally been under-represented in studies of cancer risk and occupational exposure. Much of the evidence generated has been from studies conducted primarily in men, which do not reflect the massive incorporation of women into the labour market since the 1980s. Therefore, studies of this type carried out only in a female population, although increasingly frequent, continue to have a special value. 

Secondly, the only agents clearly associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer are asbestos and radiation. No clear association of this tumour with other chemical carcinogens could be established.  

The present study includes a sample of more than 400 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer compared to more than 800 healthy women, and the results show a higher risk of ovarian cancer in hairdressers or beauticians (three times the risk compared to the normal population) and in female accountants. A relationship is also evident in women in the retail industry, albeit with a lower risk. Finally, the authors also identify a possible risk (but no longer clearly significant) in dressmakers, saleswomen and construction workers. 

This is a study that should be considered hypothesis-generating. This means that the results cannot be considered conclusive, and therefore require confirmation in a larger study. However, these results suggest that there may be some type of chemical agent to which women may be exposed during their work in these sectors that could be responsible for this increased risk. The publication itself identifies 18 potential agents, ranging from talc to isopropanolol or hair products, although in this type of study the relationship with the chemical agent also needs to be confirmed.  

In summary, this is a relevant study that suggests that occupational exposure to different agents in professional sectors such as hairdressers, beauty or barbershop workers or accountants may account for an increased diagnosis of ovarian cancer. However, confirmation of these data is needed before more solid conclusions can be drawn.

The author has not responded to our request to declare conflicts of interest
Occupational environment and ovarian cancer risk
  • Research article
  • Peer reviewed
  • Observational study
  • People
Occupational & Environmental Medicine
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Leung et al.

Study types:
  • Research article
  • Peer reviewed
  • Observational study
  • People
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