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Breast cancer and night work


20th March 2009

40 women who have developed breast cancer working night shifts in Denmark are receiving compensation from their government.

Dr Vincent Cogliano of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said that it believed that alterations in sleep patterns caused by working nights could lower the body's production of melatonin. "Melatonin has some beneficial effects in preventing some of the steps leading to cancer," he told the BBC. He said that the UN agency's finding was based on a wide range of studies. "The level of evidence is really no different than it might be for an industrial chemical," he said. They describe night shifts as being a 'probable' carcinogen, the same as EMFs.

Professor Andrew Watterson, an occupational health specialist at Stirling University, said we are far behind Scandinavia in recognising the dangers of night work. "I think we can say there is a big public health problem here," he said.

In our article on melatonin, we cite some of the studies which link melatonin levels with reduced cancer risk, including breast cancer. Melatonin is a natural anti-cancer agent in the body, but the body can stop producing it when exposed to light at night. Melatonin is produced at night in conditions of darkness, and light switches off the pineal gland's ability to produce melatonin. Exposure to other types of electromagnetic fields (of which light is one) can also reduce pineal melatonin.

References

» 2001 - Blackman CF et al - The influence of 1.2 µT, 60 Hz magnetic fields on melatonin- and tamoxifen-induced inhibition of MCF-7 cell growth, Bioelectromagnetics 2001 Feb;22(2):122-8
» 2005 - Blask DE et al - Melatonin-depleted blood from premenopausal women exposed to light at night stimulates growth of human breast cancer xenografts in nude rats. Cancer Res 65(23): 11174-84
» 2009 - Cucina A et al - Evidence for a biphasic apoptotic pathway induced by melatonin in MCF-7 breast cancer cells. J Pineal Res 46(2):172-80
» 2008 - Greenlee H et al - Use of antioxidant supplements during breast cancer treatment: a comprehensive review. Breast Cancer Res Treat Oct 7
» 2006 - Juutilainen J & T Kumlin - Occupational magnetic field exposure and melatonin: interaction with light-at-night. Bioelectromagnetics 27(5):423-6
» 2004 - Pauley S - Lighting for the human circadian clock: recent research indicates that lighting has become a public health issue. Med Hypotheses 63 (4): 588-96
» 2003 - Sanchez-Barcelo EJ - Melatonin and mammary cancer: a short review. Endocr Relat Cancer 10(2): 153-9,
» 2004 - Schernhammer E et al - Epidemiology of urinary melatonin in women and its relation to other hormones and night work. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 13 (62): 936-43
» 2005 - Schernhammer ES & SE Hankinson - Urinary melatonin levels and breast cancer risk. J Natl Cancer Inst 97(14):1084-7
» 2008 - Srinivasan V et al - Therapeutic actions of melatonin in cancer: possible mechanisms. Integr Cancer Ther 7(3):189-203
» 2008 - Srinivasan V et al - Melatonin, environmental light, and breast cancer. Breast Cancer Res Treat 108(3):339-50
» 2009 - Stevens RG - Electric light causes cancer? Surely you're joking Mr Stevens?. Mutation Research 7th January.
» 2006 - Stevens RG - Artificial lighting in the industrialized world: circadian disruption and breast cancer. Cancer Causes Control 17(4):501-7
» 1996 - Stevens RG & S Davis - The melatonin hypothesis: electric power and breast cancer. Environ Health Perspect 104(S1):135-40
» 1993 - Stevens RG - Breast cancer and electric power. Biomed Pharmacother 47(10):435-8
» 1993 - Stevens RG - Biologically based epidemiological studies of electric power and cancer. Environ Health Perspect 101(S4):93-100
» 1992 -Stevens RG et al - Electric power, pineal function, and the risk of breast cancer. FASEB 6(3):853-60


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