Objectives: This systematic review concerns the role of nightshift work in the risk of breast cancer or other cancers.
Methods: Studies that specifically included information on nightshift or shift work and reported cancer occurrence were focused upon. A systematic search of Medline and the Science Citation Index was conducted until May 2007. The quality of each paper was discussed with respect to design, exposure and outcome information, bias, confounding, and exposure-response assessment.
Results: Thirteen relevant reports were found, and eight reported the relative risk for breast cancer, three for prostate cancer, three for colon cancer, and four for all cancers. Most of the studies had crude information about nightshift work, four register-linked studies had no individual exposure information but relied on exposure probabilities assessed on a group level, and no studies analyzed cancer risk according to the cumulative number of night shifts (however, most of the studies did so according to the number of years of nightshift work). Confounding did not seem to be of major concern. The presentation of the results was not always complete, and it would have been appreciated if the reasons for leaving some findings out had been reported. There were indications of a long-term effect of nightshift work (more than 20-30 years), but the number of positive studies was small. In addition, they were all conducted among nurses, and the risk estimates were only moderately increased. This situation makes the results sensitive to bias, chance, and confounding.
Conclusions: There is limited evidence for a causal association between nightshift work and breast cancer, while there is insufficient evidence for prostate cancer, colon cancer, and overall cancer.