Various studies have suggested an association between night shift work and an increased risk of cancer, perhaps due to altered circadian rhythms or lower levels of melatonin in the blood. Still, these studies haven't proved that night shift work causes cancer. In fact, many of the studies linking shift work and cancer have serious limitations — including difficulty controlling for known cancer risk factors, such as smoking.
If you work the night shift, switching to the day shift isn't likely to change your overall cancer risk. However, you can take other steps to help prevent cancer. For example:
- Don't use tobacco.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Include physical activity in your daily routine.
- Protect yourself from the sun.
- If you choose to drink alcohol, do so only in moderation.
- Ask your doctor about vaccines for certain viral infections, such as hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (HPV).
Also remember the importance of regular self-exams and professional screening for various types of cancer. Early detection increases the odds of successful treatment.
Dec. 02, 2010
See more Expert Answers
- Mead MN. Shift work-cancer debate goes on. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2007;115:A535.
- Kolstad HA. Nightshift work and risk of breast cancer and other cancers — A critical review of the epidemiologic evidence. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health. 2008;34:5.
- Khan N, et al. Lifestyle as risk factor for cancer: Evidence from human studies. Cancer Letters. 2010;293:133.
- Recommended adult immunization schedule: United States, 2010. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/recs/schedules/downloads/adult/2010/adult-schedule.pdf. Accessed Sept. 7, 2010.
- How do I protect myself from UV rays? American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/sunanduvexposure/skincancerpreventionandearlydetection/skin-cancer-prevention-and-early-detection-u-v-protection. Accessed Sept. 7, 2010.
- Pronk A, et al. Night-shift work and breast cancer risk in a cohort of Chinese women. American Journal of Epidemiology. 2010;171:953.