Increased Ovarian Cancer Risk for Beauticians and Hairdressers

Increased Ovarian Cancer Risk for Beauticians and Hairdressers

Occupational Hazards: The Risk of Ovarian Cancer for Hairdressers and Beauticians


When we think of high-risk jobs, hairdressers and beauticians don’t immediately come to mind. After all, we often picture them carefully crafting stunning hairstyles or providing relaxing beauty treatments. However, a new study highlights a startling fact – cosmetologists have a much greater chance of developing ovarian cancer than the average woman[^1^].

This study, published in Occupational & Environmental Medicine, reveals that working for a decade or more as a hairdresser, barber, or beautician is associated with a threefold higher risk of ovarian cancer[^1^]. But it’s not just cosmetologists who face this increased risk. Other occupations, including accountancy, construction, the clothing industry, and sales and retail, also contribute to the risk of ovarian cancer[^1^].

The study, conducted by Anita Koushik and her team at the University of Montreal, involved 490 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer in Montreal between 2010 and 2016, comparing them to nearly 900 women without ovarian cancer[^1^]. To determine occupational exposure, the researchers asked the participants to report details of any jobs they held for at least six months and used a Canadian job-exposure matrix to calculate their exposure to specific chemical agents in the workplace[^1^]. The results were eye-opening.

According to the calculations, several occupations held for a decade or longer were linked to a heightened risk of ovarian cancer. Construction work had a nearly tripled risk, while accountancy carried a doubled risk[^1^]. Working in the clothing industry had an 85% increased risk, while sales and retail came with a 45% and 59% higher risk, respectively[^1^]. These figures shed light on the potential health hazards associated with these professions.

Furthermore, the researchers identified 18 specific agents in the workplace that were associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer of 40% or more[^1^]. Some of these agents include talcum powder, ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, hair dust, synthetic fibers, and formaldehyde[^1^]. Hairdressers, beauticians, and other cosmetologists, in particular, are frequently exposed to 13 of these agents, making their risk significantly higher[^1^].

It’s worth noting that the study does not definitively determine whether the observed associations with ovarian cancer are due to a single agent, a combination of agents, or other workplace factors[^1^]. Further research is needed to establish a clear cause-and-effect relationship. However, these findings highlight the urgent need to address occupational risks and protect the health of women in high-risk professions.

In a commentary accompanying the study, Melissa Friesen and Laura Beane Freeman of the U.S. National Cancer Institute emphasize the importance of studying women’s occupational risks and identifying risk factors specific to female cancers[^1^]. They raise concerns about the underrepresentation of women in occupational cancer studies and the need for improvement in understanding and addressing these risks[^1^]. By excluding women, we miss the opportunity to study exposures occurring in occupations predominantly held by them and identify sex-specific differences in risk[^1^].

While this study sheds light on the increased risk of ovarian cancer for hairdressers, beauticians, and professionals in other occupations, it is essential to remember that the risk is relative and does not mean that all individuals in these professions will develop ovarian cancer. However, it emphasizes the importance of occupational safety measures and the need for further research to better understand and mitigate the risks associated with these jobs.

For more information about ovarian cancer and its impact, you can visit the American Cancer Society’s website. Stay informed, stay empowered, and prioritize your health.

Ovarian cancer

QUESTION: Where does ovarian cancer occur?

  1. Ovaries
  2. Uterus
  3. Fallopian tubes
  4. Cervix

See Answer

Sources: 1. Occupational & Environmental Medicine, news release, July 10, 2023