Chronotype and postmenopausal breast cancer risk among women in the California Teachers Study

Chronobiol Int. 2019 Nov;36(11):1504-1514. doi: 10.1080/07420528.2019.1658113. Epub 2019 Aug 27.


Chronotype is the behavioral manifestation of an individual's underlying circadian rhythm, generally characterized by one's propensity to sleep at a particular time during the 24 hour cycle. Evening chronotypes ("night owls") generally suffer from worse physical and mental health compared to morning chronotypes ("morning larks") - for reasons that have yet to be explained. One hypothesis is that evening chronotypes may be more susceptible to circadian disruption, a condition where the coordinated timing of biologic processes breaks down. The role of chronotype as an independent or modifying risk factor for cancer has not been widely explored. The objective of the current study was to evaluate the risk of breast cancer associated with chronotype in a case-control study nested within the California Teachers Study (CTS) cohort. The study population consisted of 39686 post-menopausal CTS participants who provided information on chronotype by completing a questionnaire in 2012-2013. 2719 cases of primary invasive breast cancer diagnosed from 1995/1996 through completion of the chronotype questionnaire were identified by linkage of the CTS to the California Cancer Registry. 36967 CTS participants who had remained cancer-free during this same time period served as controls. Chronotype was ascertained by responses to an abbreviated version of the Horne-Ostberg Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire (MEQ) and was characterized into five categories: definite morning, more morning than evening, neither morning or evening, more evening than morning, definite evening. Multivariable unconditional logistic regression analyses were performed to estimate the odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs) for each of the chronotypes, adjusted for established breast cancer risk factors. Compared to definite morning types, definite evening types had an increased risk of breast cancer with elevated ORs that were statistically significant in both the crude (OR = 1.24, 95% CI: 1.10-1.40) and fully-adjusted models (OR = 1.20, 95% CI: 1.06-1.35). The risk estimates in the fully-adjusted model for all other chronotypes did not significantly differ from one. These results suggest that evening chronotype may be an independent risk factor for breast cancer among a population of women who are not known to have engaged in any substantial night shift work. Further research in other populations of non-shift workers is warranted.

Keywords: Chronotype; breast cancer risk; case-control; circadian disruption; circadian rhythm.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Breast Neoplasms*
  • California
  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Postmenopause*
  • Risk Factors