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Beauticians and barbers have higher ovarian cancer – Canadian study

A recent study examining links between various occupations and ovarian cancer risk suggested that people working in the sales, retail, clothing and construction industries have a greater risk, with hairdressers, barbers and beauticians appearing to have a three-fold higher risk.

The authors of the study, published in The BMJ’s Occupational and Environmental Medicine, stressed, however, that “inferences from the results are limited”, and called for more work to examine the links between ovarian cancer risk and different jobs.

The Independent reports that the research, led by the Université de Montréal, compared data on 491 Canadian women with ovarian cancer and 897 women without disease. The researchers considered influential factors such as whether they were more likely to come into contact with a certain chemical while at work.

They said that those with a higher risk were more likely to be exposed to a number of “agents” including: cosmetic talc, ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, hair dust, synthetic fibres, polyester fibres, organic dyes, and pigments and bleaches.

While hairdressers, barbers and beauticians seemed to have a three-fold higher risk, women who worked in accountancy for a decade were twice as likely to develop the disease while construction workers were almost three times as likely.

Shop assistants and sales people had a 45% increased risk while those who make or alter clothes appeared to have an 85% increased risk.

“We observed associations suggesting that accountancy, hairdressing, sales, sewing and related occupations may be linked to excess risks,” the authors wrote.

“Further population-based research is needed to evaluate possible hazards for female workers and occupations commonly held by women.”

Study details

Occupational environment and ovarian cancer risk

Lisa Leung, Jérôme Lavoué, Jack Siemiatycki, Pascal Guénel, Anita Koushik.

Published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine in July 2023


To investigate employment in an occupation or industry and specific occupational exposures in relation to ovarian cancer risk.

In a population-based case–control study conducted in Montreal, Canada (2011–2016), lifetime occupational histories were collected for 491 cases of ovarian cancer and 897 controls. An industrial hygienist coded the occupation and industry of each participant’s job. Associations with ovarian cancer risk were estimated for each of several occupations and industries. Job codes were linked to the Canadian job-exposure matrix, thereby generating exposure histories to many agents. The relationship between exposure to each of the 29 most prevalent agents and ovarian cancer risk was assessed. Odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals (OR (95% CI)) for associations with ovarian cancer risk were estimated using logistic regression and controlling for multiple covariates.

Elevated ORs (95% CI) were observed for employment ≥10 years as accountants (2.05 (1.10 to 3.79)); hairdressers, barbers, beauticians and related workers (3.22 (1.25 to 8.27)); sewers and embroiderers (1.85 (0.77 to 4.45)); and salespeople, shop assistants and demonstrators (1.45 (0.71 to 2.96)); and in the industries of retail trade (1.59 (1.05 to 2.39)) and construction (2.79 (0.52 to 4.83)). Positive associations with ORs above 1.42 were seen for high cumulative exposure versus never exposure to 18 agents: cosmetic talc, ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, hair dust, synthetic fibres, polyester fibres, organic dyes and pigments, cellulose, formaldehyde, propellant gases, aliphatic alcohols, ethanol, isopropanol, fluorocarbons, alkanes (C5–C17), mononuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from petroleum and bleaches.

Certain occupations, industries and specific occupational exposures may be associated with ovarian cancer risk. Further research is needed to provide a more solid grounding for any inferences in this regard.


OEM article – Occupational environment and ovarian cancer risk (Open access)


The Independent article – The jobs that may give women a higher risk of ovarian cancer (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Largest J&J talc damages award over ovarian cancer claim


Uterine cancer risk linked to hair-straightening products – US study


Use of permanent hair dye and cancer risk






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