We've all heard the expression, "Worked to death." After all, our jobs are an integral part of our lives in so many ways. Not only are they a necessary source of income, but since most of us spend a great deal of our waking hours at our jobs, they can have a major influence on our quality of life, not to mention our overall health.

With this in mind, can a job have a negative impact on our health? In other words, can our workplace environment contribute to conditions that might increase our risk for certain diseases?

According to a new study, this might very well be the case. In fact, researchers have found evidence to suggest that certain occupations might predispose individuals to an increased risk for breast cancer, especially when they increase a person's exposure to carcinogens and endocrine disrupters.

To arrive at their findings, which were published in the journal Environmental Health, researchers examined the records of over 1000 breast cancer patients and compared them with a roughly equal number of randomly chosen controls. Information was gathered on occupational histories and reproductive health by way of interviews and surveys. Special attention was paid to the level of carcinogen and endocrine disruptor exposure at a given occupation.

What they found was that there was indeed an increased risk for breast cancer in professions that had a potentially higher exposure to these compounds. These include agriculture, plastic manufacturing, metal working, and even working in a bar or casino. What was also revealed in the findings was that women in lower socioeconomic strata had an increased risk, possibly due to the increased exposure the stems from lower-income manufacturing jobs.

The authors of the study suggest that the findings are first step towards reassessing what are considered acceptable levels of exposure to these chemicals which might in turn lead to greater regulatory protection. This is especially important in light of the amount of time that we spend at our jobs, where gradual exposure to carcinogens over a long period can become a health hazard.

Breast cancer is in fact the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer for women in industrialized nations, with rates in North America being the highest in the world. After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women and the second leading cause of cancer death after lung cancer.

The exact cause of breast cancer is still not clear, though it is largely believed to be a complex interaction between our genes and our environment. While some risk factors like heredity and age are beyond our control, we can control others, including lifestyle choices (smoking, obesity) and environmental exposure. However, the situation is complicated by the possibility that potential carcinogens have not yet been identified.

If you have questions or concerns, talk to your doctor. For more information about breast cancer, visit the website for the National Cancer Institute.