Night shift work favors cancer - expert panel confirms correlations

Night shift work favors cancer - expert panel confirms correlations

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Night shift work probably carcinogenic

In recent years, numerous scientific studies have indicated that shift work, and here in particular night shift work, leads to an increased risk of cancer. An international panel of experts has now confirmed this probable connection.

Cancer, especially breast cancer, has received particular attention as one of the possible health consequences of shift work since a working group of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 2007 classified night shift work as "probably carcinogenic to humans". An international panel of 27 scientists for the IARC has now confirmed that night shift work is likely to cause cancer.

Disrupted day-night rhythm

As the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology - BIPS explains in a press release, around 20 percent of all employees work outside of the typical working hours per day. Since night shift work has been classified by the IARC as "probably carcinogenic to humans", shift work that disrupts the day-night rhythm has fallen into group 2A, which also includes glyphosate or red meat. This assessment has now been confirmed in a follow-up evaluation.

New scientific research

The reason for the reassessment, which has now been published in the journal "Lancet Oncology", was the relatively high number of new scientific studies on the subject that have been published in recent years. As the scientists involved write in their explanatory memorandum, they draw their conclusions on the basis of a limited data base in human studies, a good one in animal experiments and a strong biological plausibility.

"It was a largely controversial discussion of the scientific data on the subject," said Prof. Dr. Hajo Zeeb, Head of the Prevention and Evaluation Department at the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology - BIPS, who was the only German member of the expert commission to participate in the new classification.

“Some recent studies found no connection between night shift work and cancer, while others showed convincing risks. And the classification of the biological findings is sometimes very complicated, ”said the expert.

Publications from recent years show how different the results of the study can be. Scientists from Sichuan University in China reported that women who work the night shift have a significantly higher risk of cancer (including breast cancer). A study by the Institute of Cancer Research in London, however, concluded that night shift work does not increase the risk of breast cancer in women.

Zeeb now explained: “There is a relatively clear association between night work and malignant tumors of the breast, prostate and intestine. However, due to the study designs, other explanations cannot be completely excluded - which is why we had to choose Group 2A, probably carcinogenic, according to the decision criteria of the IARC. ”

Classification is not considered a risk assessment

In June, 27 scientists from 16 countries met for eight days in Lyon, France, for the reassessment. Before and during the meeting, the experts analyzed all the scientific literature available on the subject. They assessed the strength of the evidence for the carcinogenicity of the factor to be assessed on the basis of the criteria specified by the IARC. As explained in the communication, this classification is explicitly not considered a risk assessment. It cannot say anything about the likelihood that a substance or agent will cause cancer. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

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