Studies show that women who work night shifts for many years have a small increased risk of breast cancer [141-143]. One possible reason for the increased risk among these workers is their exposure to light at night.
Light at night, melatonin and breast cancer
Melatonin is a hormone in the body that helps control the sleep cycle. During the night, the body produces melatonin and exposure to light at night disrupts this process.
Some studies suggest women with lower levels of melatonin may have a higher risk of breast cancer than women with higher levels of melatonin [144-145]. Exposure to light at night may increase the risk of breast cancer by suppressing production of melatonin.
Lowering melatonin levels also can increase the production of estrogen. High levels of estrogen in the body can increase the risk of breast cancer . These processes in the body and their effect on breast cancer risk among night shift workers are still under study.
More research is needed to understand which aspects of shift work may impact breast cancer risk.
Learn more about estrogen and breast cancer risk.