Invited commentary: shift work and can

Am J Epidemiol. 2012 Nov 1;176(9):760-3.
Bhatti P, Mirick DK, Davis S.
Am J Epidemiol. 2012 Nov 1;176(9):760-3.
Direct oncostatic properties of melatonin in shift-work-cancer association.
Night-shift work

In this issue of the Journal, Parent et al. (Am J Epidemiol. 2012;176(9):751-759) report significant associations between night-shift work and risk of cancer at several sites among men. These findings not only address the need for shift-work studies that evaluate cancers other than breast and prostate cancer but also support the increasing concern that the negative effects of shift work may be broadly applicable to risk of many cancers via the direct oncostatic properties of melatonin. Studies of shift work have been limited by a lack of detailed data for determining which aspects of this multifaceted exposure may be associated with increased cancer risk. Additionally, the influence of individual-level characteristics, such as preference for daytime activity versus nighttime activity or chronotype, has not been considered. In moving forward, launching new cohort studies of shift work and cancer risk is the most tenable approach, though it will be limited by the years of follow-up required in order to accrue adequate numbers of cancer cases. Studies incorporating biomarkers of effect are useful for providing immediate information that can aid not only in identifying the underlying mechanisms of the shift-work-cancer association but also in interpreting existing epidemiologic data and informing the design of future epidemiologic studies of cancer risk.