Light at Night and Risk of Pancreatic Cancer in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study

Cancer Res. 2021 Mar 15;81(6):1616-1622. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-20-2256. Epub 2021 Jan 29.


Circadian disruption may play a role in carcinogenesis. Recent research suggests that light at night (LAN), a circadian disruptor, may be a risk factor for cancer. Moreover, LAN has been linked to obesity and diabetes, two risk factors for pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). Here we examine the relationship between LAN and PDAC in an epidemiologic study of 464,371 participants from the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. LAN was estimated from satellite imagery at baseline (1996), and incident primary PDAC cases were ascertained from state cancer registries. Cox proportional hazards models were used to estimate HRs and two-sided 95% confidence intervals (CI) for the association between quintiles of LAN and PDAC in the overall population stratified by sex. Over up to 16.2 years of follow-up, a total of 2,502 incident PDAC were identified in the cohort. Higher estimated LAN exposure was associated with an elevated PDAC risk. Compared with those living in areas in the lowest LAN quintile, those in areas in the highest quintile had a 27% increase PDAC risk [HR (95% CI), 1.24 (1.03-1.49)], with similar risk for men [1.21 (0.96-1.53)] and women [1.28 (0.94-1.75)]. In addition, stronger associations were observed in normal and overweight groups compared with the obese group (P interaction = 0.03). Our results support the hypothesis that LAN and circadian disruption may be risk factors for PDAC. SIGNIFICANCE: Our study suggests that higher LAN is a risk factor for pancreatic cancer, contributing to the growing literature that demonstrates the potentially adverse health effects of light pollution.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / epidemiology*
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / etiology
  • Circadian Clocks / physiology
  • Circadian Clocks / radiation effects
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology
  • Circadian Rhythm / radiation effects
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Lighting / adverse effects*
  • Lighting / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Overweight / epidemiology
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / etiology
  • Photoperiod*
  • Risk Assessment / statistics & numerical data
  • Risk Factors
  • United States / epidemiology