Shift work that includes a nighttime rotation has become an unavoidable attribute of today's 24-h society. The related disruption of the human circadian time organization leads in the short-term to an array of jet-lag-like symptoms, and in the long-run it may contribute to weight gain/obesity, metabolic syndrome/type II diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Epidemiologic studies also suggest increased cancer risk, especially for breast cancer, in night and rotating female shift workers. If confirmed in more controlled and detailed studies, the carcinogenic effect of night and shift work will constitute additional serious medical, economic, and social problems for a substantial proportion of the working population. Here, we examine the possible multiple and interconnected cancer-promoting mechanisms as a consequence of shift work, i.e., repeated disruption of the circadian system, pineal hormone melatonin suppression by exposure to light at night, sleep-deprivation-caused impairment of the immune system, plus metabolic changes favoring obesity and generation of proinflammatory reactive oxygen species.
Shift work and cancer risk: Potential mechanistic roles of circadian disruption, light at night, and sleep deprivation