ABC Women’s Health Study

A study of breast cancer risk among ABC female employees in Australia

In May 2005, an apparent cluster of breast cancer cases was suspected among female employees at the Toowong Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) site in Brisbane, QLD.

Two subsequent investigations in 2006 found a significantly higher than expected number of breast cancer cases among female employees based at the studio.   The ABC management then commissioned Cancer Council NSW – an independent, non-Government organisation – to undertake a national study to investigate if this increased risk of breast cancer was also present in other studios across Australia.

The aim of the study was to determine if there was a higher rate of breast cancer among female ABC employees nationally, compared to the wider Australian population.

Our research showed that ABC employees (outside of QLD) had the same breast cancer risk as the rest of the Australian population. This shows that the apparent cancer cluster found in Toowong was not a widespread problem faced by other ABC studios.

Study Methodology

Cancer Council researchers investigated how long employees worked at the ABC, and at which locations they were based during the study period (1994 to 2005).   They also identified as far as possible every case of breast cancer which occurred during this period.   The next step involved comparing breast cancer rates among ABC employees against the rate of the wider Australian population, using cancer registry records.

The rigorous process to identify these women used ABC Human Resources records and State and Territory cancer registry records, in accordance with accepted privacy and ethics guidelines, and with the assistance of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The researchers looked at national figures both including and excluding QLD to determine if the breast cancer rates differed from the national rates.

Findings

They found that ABC employees (outside of QLD) had the same breast cancer risk as the rest of the Australian population. So the apparent cancer cluster found in Toowong was not a widespread problem faced by other ABC studios.

Including QLD, a total of 48 ABC employees nationally were found to have breast cancer during the study period, compared to an expected figure of 42.8 women nationally.

When QLD was taken out of the study, however, there were 40 breast cancer cases compared to an expected number of 39.5, which is in line with the national average of 1 in 11 women being diagnosed with breast cancer.

In summary, the main findings are:

  • Forty eight women were found to have breast cancer among 5969 ABC female staff between 1994 and 2005.
  • This reconfirms a significantly higher rate of breast cancer existed among ABC employees in Queensland; consistent with the findings in the earlier report
  • No higher than expected risk of breast cancer was found in ABC employees across the Australian States and Territories as a whole, compared to state incidence statistics
  • No increased rate of breast cancer was observed among staff diagnosed in the rest of the country (excluding Queensland), with 40 cases found among ABC employees, versus an expected 39.5 cases
  • Predictably, the breast cancer rate among ABC female employees was slightly but not significantly increased when the Queensland data was included in the national ABC figures (48 cases versus 42.8 expected)
  • We therefore expect women working at ABC to have a similar risk of breast cancer to all Australian women.

More information

ABC Women’s Health Study FAQs [ PDF, 20 KB]

ABC Women’s Health Study report [ PDF, 158 KB]

ABC Women’s Health Study – glossary [ PDF, 62 KB]

If you would like more information on the study please contact:
A/Prof Freddy Sitas at freddys@nswcc.org.au

If you have any questions or need more information on cancer in general, please contact:
Helpline 13 11 20

If you are a journalist, please contact:
Karen Kalpage – 0411 408 647 karenk@nswcc.org.au (working Mon, Tues, Wed)
Luke Alexander – 0413 886 578 lukea@nswcc.org.au

Study personnel

Investigators

Associate Professor Freddy Sitas
Cancer Research Division, Cancer Council NSW
Professor Dianne O’Connell
Cancer Research Division, Cancer Council NSW

Independent Review and Scientific Investigation Panel

Professor Bruce Armstrong (Chair)
The University of Sydney
Dr Norman Swan
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Professor Malcolm Sim
Monash Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health
Associate Professor Joanne Aitken
Cancer Council Queensland