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More Cancer Testing Urged in Australian TV Studios

The mysterious spread of breast cancer cases at the Brisbane studios of Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) continues to cause concern among its staff.

Former news assistant Angela Eckersley is the 15th confirmed cancer case among the ABC staff who worked at the now-abandoned Toowong headquarters of the broadcaster.

On Friday the ABC staff passed a number of resolutions, including a request for faster payment of compensation for those diagnosed with the disease and free medical testing for male employees.

Dave Waters from the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance says workers also want all electronic equipment to be tested.

"Staff also called for tests, that were aborted as a result of the evacuation at the Toowong studios, to be recommenced across the seven ABC sites across Brisbane, towards providing that necessary reassurance about the safety of the equipment they are working with," he said.

Waters says are also calling for a register of past and present employees for health monitoring purposes.

"There is universal concern amongst ABC Brisbane employees about this cancer cluster," he said.

"Yes, we have seen 15 cases of breast cancer since 1994 but all staff are concerned about cancer and that extends to men."

The lawyer representing eight of the 15 women diagnosed with the illness after working at the Toowong site says many are still to be reimbursed for their costs.

Roger Singh from Shine Lawyers says the process needs to be sped up.

"These ladies have suffered significantly - the anguish and turmoil from the diagnoses and the impact on their families as you can imagine has been significant," he said.

"The financial hardship which goes with that takes its toll so when individuals need to get medical treatment as swiftly as possible, they have to dip into their own pockets and the expense is significan t."

Eckersley, aged 40, was with the ABC for seven years and worked at the same production desk as seven women also diagnosed with the disease.

An expert panel convened last year could not find a cause for the cluster at the work site, which had a cancer rate up to 11 times higher than the general working community.

The panel's final report, handed down last month, noted that cancer clusters had been notoriously difficult to get to the bottom of.

It noted a US study of 61 workplace cancer cluster investigations, in which most were found to have no plausible cause.

The chair of the expert panel that examined the cluster, Bruce Armstrong, said further probes were not likely to turn up anything new.

Professor Armstrong said the outcome of the panel's investigation had been frustrating.

"You'd like an explanation and people want an explanation and you hope to find an explanation that would be helpful," he said.

"But at the same time, you know that if you go in investigating a cluster, the probabilities are against you."

Professor Armstrong said the panel had already documented the cases "reasonably thoroughly" and little more could be learned from them.

"Someone may have a bright idea but the betting is against it," he said.

"Our advice from the experts said the results from the (radiation) monitors that were recovered are sufficient to establish that ionizing radiation was not the cause of the cluster," he said.

However, former ABC newsreader Lisa Backhouse today said both the ABC and the scientific community should study their cases further.

"It would be an appalling waste if we just shut the book on this investigation," she said.

Backhouse, who was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2004, has survived but still requires hormone treatment, said researchers should b e "pounding down our doors".

"We are an obvious breast cancer cluster, we worked in a very confined place, we are the perfect place to start if you're a medical researcher. Where are they? Why aren't they looking at our case?" she demanded to know.

Angela Eckersleys husband and former ABC reporter and presenter, Ian Eckersley, also felt more had to be done.

"If people look hard enough and long enough and keep an open book, just maybe there's some clues there to unlock some of the mysteries and some of the answers as to what causes breast cancer," he said.

His wife was still in hospital but had received an "excellent prognosis" and the family hoped to have her home in the next couple of days.

"It has been an enormously challenging time but she is an amazingly courageous and strong woman and she's doing very well," Ian said.


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