Night Shift Workers Have an Increased Risk of Cancer, But Why?

A new study offers insight on why night shift workers are at increased risk of certain cancers. The study appeared in the Journal of Pineal Research.

In this study, researchers assessed a cohort of healthy volunteers who were on simulated night shift or day shift schedules. They observed that night shifts disrupt natural 24-hour rhythms in the activity of certain cancer-related genes, making night shift workers more vulnerable to damage to their DNA while simultaneously causing the body’s DNA repair mechanisms to be mistimed to deal with that damage, thus augmenting the risk of developing malignancies.

“Taken together, these findings suggest that night shift schedules throw off the timing of expression of cancer-related genes in a way that reduces the effectiveness of the body’s DNA repair processes when they are most needed,” said co-corresponding author Jason McDermott, a computational scientist with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Biological Sciences Division via a press release.

 

“Night shift workers face considerable health disparities, ranging from increased risks of metabolic and cardiovascular disease to mental health disorders and cancer,” said co-senior author Hans Van Dongen, a professor in the WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and director of the WSU Sleep and Performance Research Center. “It is high time that we find diagnosis and treatment solutions for this underserved group of essential workers so that the medical community can address their unique health challenges.”