Danish nurses found to have higher cancer rates

November 14, 2009 at 5:28 pm | Posted in News | 3 Comments
Nurse on ward

New research provides more evidence that nurses are at higher risk of developing cancer. (Image: clarita, Morguefile)

In this month’s H&E, we reported on a new piece of research which, although limited, found that medical professionals’ bodies are contaminated with a range of chemicals common in the healthcare environment and of concern because they may cause long-term harm to health.

A new piece of research (abstract below) on cancer rates among nurses sheds some light on whether or not healthcare workers are therefore at special risk of certain diseases because of these exposures.

Given the chemical-intensive environment and other occupational factors, it isn’t beyond the realm of reason that cancer rates should be elevated for the nursing profession.

Carried out by a research team under the Danish Cancer Society, the study examined incidence rates of 21 different types of cancer among 90,000 female nurses.

Among the sample, over 8,000 cancers were identified. Of these, incidence of breast cancer, cancers of the nervous system and skin cancers were particularly high compared to average.

Interestingly, cancers related to alcohol and tobacco consumption were lower among nurses than the general population.

This study is more evidence that the healthcare environment poses its own long-term occupational health hazards.

In 2007, researchers found similar results among 43,000 Norwegian nurses, “indicat[ing] an association between working as a nurse and an increased risk of breast cancer and malignant melanoma”.

Study Abstract

Scand J Work Environ Health. 2009 Nov;35(6):446-53. Epub 2009 Oct 1.

Cancer incidence among large cohort of female Danish registered nurses.

Kjaer TKHansen J. Department of Psychosocial Cancer Research, Institute of Cancer Epidemiology, Danish Cancer Society, Copenhagen Ø, Denmark. trille@cancer.dk

BACKGROUND: Nurses are potentially exposed to carcinogens in their working environment. We investigated the risks for 21 types of cancers in Danish nurses.

METHODS: We identified 92 140 female nurses from the computerized files of the Danish Nurses’ Association. By record linkage, we reconstructed information on employment since 1964 using data from a national pension fund; information on vital status and reproduction was obtained from the Central Population Register.

Each woman was followed-up from 1980-2003 in the Danish Cancer Registry. We calculated standardized incidence ratios (SIR) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CI). Using Poisson regression models, we made internal comparisons in subgroups of nurses, adjusting for potential confounders.

RESULTS: We documented 8410 cancers during follow-up and found significantly increased SIR for breast cancer (SIR 1.1, 95% CI 1.1-1.2), cancers of the brain and nervous system (SIR 1.2, 95% CI 1.1-1.3), melanoma (SIR 1.2, 95% CI 1.1-1.3), and other skin cancers (SIR 1.2, 95% CI 1.1-1.2).

Significantly decreased risks were observed for alcohol- and tobacco-related cancers. Nurses who were accredited by the Association after 1981 had significantly increased risks for thyroid cancer (SIR 1.9, 95% CI 1.3-2.5) and cancers of the brain and nervous system (SIR 1.5, 95% CI 1.2-1.9). Former nurses had significantly increased SIR for all cancers combined and breast cancer the first ten years after leaving the profession.

In a Poisson regression analysis of breast cancer and duration of employment in hospitals, adjusted for reproductive factors, nurses had an increase risk the first 25 years of employment, but not for longer periods.

CONCLUSION: The increased risk of breast cancer and the decreased risk of alcohol- and tobacco-related cancers support the findings of most other studies on nurses. The elevated risks for cancers of the breast, brain, nervous system, and thyroid warrant further study.

PMID: 19806273 [PubMed – in process]


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  1. […] the original post here: Danish nurses found to have higher cancer rates « Health & Environment Share and […]

  2. have any studies beeen done on english nurses

    • Not as far as I know, but I can check that for you. I should be able to find out next week.

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