Working night shifts has been linked to a variety of health issues over the last few decades. Night shift work is causally related to a heightened risk of chronic illnesses, including heart disease, obesity, ulcers, and gastrointestinal distress.
Now, a new study has provided evidence that night shift work can also increase the risk of developing certain cancers—particullary amongst women.
Female night shift employees were almost twenty percent more likely to get cancer as compared to women who worked non-night schedules, the study revealed.
Women who worked night shifts for an extended period of time were at greater risk of developing skin, lung, and breast cancers. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 15 million Americans work irregular hours, including evening, overnight, and rotating shifts.
The major issue with night shift work is that it disrupts normal circadian rhythm. This term refers to the “internal clock” present in all human bodies that regulates physiological functioning. This internal clock makes decisions about bodily processes based on the amount of light in a person’s environment at any given time.
The human body and brain are programmed to relax and wind down as the amount of light in their environment diminishes. Conversely, they are trained to pep up in the morning and re-energize for a new day of expending energy. Employees who work on night shifts must fight against the natural urge to rest at night and remain alert.
Some night shift workers try to overcompensate by sleeping as much as possible during the daytime. Unfortunately, no amount of sleep can make up for a circadian rhythm that has been thrown out of balance.
Irregular shifts are a standard protocol across many industries and companies. Some fields that rely heavily on night shift employees include:
- Police and law enforcement
- Medical professions (nurses, doctors, etc.)
- Security work
- Emergency response (firefighters, paramedics, etc.)
- Air traffic control
- Casinos and bars
- Retail stocking and cashiering
- Mail sorting
- Property reposession and recovery
Researchers found that women who worked a long-term night schedule had a 41 percent higher chance of developing skin cancer, as well as a 32 percent higher potential for breast cancer.
As a result of the new study linking night shift work to increased female cancer risk, women who work night shifts for long periods of time should have annual physical exams and cancer screenings.