Risk of breast cancer after night- and shift work: current evidence and ongoing studies in Denmark

Cancer Causes Control. 2006 May;17(4):531-7. doi: 10.1007/s10552-005-9006-5.


Breast cancer is the most frequent cancer among women, and the number is increasing worldwide. This tumour is strongly associated with Western lifestyle, but the specific risk factors behind this observation are not well known. Exposure to light-at-night, including disturbance of the circadian rhythm, possibly mediated via the melatonin synthesis and clock genes, has been suggested as a contributing cause of breast cancer. Since shift- and night-time work is prevalent and increasing in modern societies, this exposure may be of public health concern, and contribute to the continuing elevation in breast cancer risk. Until now only few epidemiological studies have evaluated breast cancer risk after shift and night work. Although these studies are all suffering from methodological problems, especially concerning assessment of light exposure, results have consistently shown an increase in risk associated with night and shift work. Good opportunities for epidemiological cancer research exist in Denmark, and several studies on different aspects of breast cancer, work schedules, light exposure and melatonin levels are ongoing in order to further examine different aspects of this issue.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Melatonin / metabolism
  • Melatonin / physiology
  • Photoperiod
  • Risk Factors
  • Work Schedule Tolerance*


  • Melatonin