breast cancer

Risk factors for breast cancer, including occupational exposures

Elisabete Weiderpass, Margrethe Meo, and Harri Vainio


The knowledge on the etiology of breast cancer has advanced substantially in recent years, and several etiological factors are now firmly established. However, very few new discoveries have been made in relation to occupational risk factors. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has evaluated over 900 different exposures or agents to-date to determine whether they are carcinogenic to humans. These evaluations are published as a series of Monographs ( For breast cancer the following substances have been classified as “carcinogenic to humans” (Group 1): alcoholic beverages, exposure to diethylstilbestrol, estrogen-progestogen contraceptives, estrogen-progestogen hormone replacement therapy and exposure to X-radiation and gamma-radiation (in special populations such as atomic bomb survivors, medical patients, and in-utero exposure). Ethylene oxide is also classified as a Group 1 carcinogen, although the evidence for carcinogenicity in epidemiologic studies, and specifically for the human breast, is limited. The classification “probably carcinogenic to humans” (Group 2A) includes estrogen hormone replacement therapy, tobacco smoking, and shift work involving circadian disruption, including work as a flight attendant. If the association between shift work and breast cancer, the most common female cancer, is confirmed, shift work could become the leading cause of occupational cancer in women.

Miscarriage among flight attendants

Barbara Grajewski, Elizabeth A. Whelan, Christina C. Lawson, Misty J. Hein, Martha A. Waters, Jeri L. Anderson, Leslie A. MacDonald, Christopher J. Mertens, Chih-Yu Tseng, Rick T. Cassinelli II, and Lian Luo


Cosmic radiation and circadian disruption are potential reproductive hazards for flight attendants.

Flight attendants from 3 US airlines in 3 cities were interviewed for pregnancy histories and lifestyle, medical, and occupational covariates. We assessed cosmic radiation and circadian disruption from company records of 2 million individual flights. Using Cox regression models, we compared respondents (1) by levels of flight exposures and (2) to teachers from the same cities, to evaluate whether these exposures were associated with miscarriage.

Of 2654 women interviewed (2273 flight attendants and 381 teachers), 958 pregnancies among 764 women met study criteria. A hypothetical pregnant flight attendant with median firsttrimester exposures flew 130 hours in 53 flight segments, crossed 34 time zones, and flew 15 hours during her home-base sleep hours (10 pm–8 am), incurring 0.13 mGy absorbed dose (0.36 mSv effective dose) of cosmic radiation. About 2% of flight attendant pregnancies were likely exposed to a solar particle event, but doses varied widely. Analyses suggested that cosmic radiation exposure of 0.1 mGy or more may be associated with increased risk of miscarriage in weeks 9–13 (odds ratio = 1.7 [95% confidence interval = 0.95–3.2]). Risk of a first-trimester miscarriage with 15 hours or more of flying during home-base sleep hours was increased (1.5 [1.1–2.2]), as was risk with high physical job demands (2.5 [1.5–4.2]). Miscarriage risk was not increased among flight attendants compared with teachers.

Miscarriage was associated with flight attendant work during sleep hours and high physical job demands and may be associated with cosmic radiation exposure.