Reduced cancer incidence among the blind

Epidemiology. 1998 Sep;9(5):490-4.


Melatonin is a hormone primarily produced by the pineal gland at night and is suppressed by exposure to light. Experimental studies have indicated that melatonin may protect against cancer development. In the majority of totally blind people, melatonin is never suppressed by light exposure. The aim of this study was to test the hypothesis that blind people have a decreased cancer incidence, and that this effect is more pronounced in the totally blind than in the severely visually impaired. We identified a cohort of 1,567 totally blind and 13,292 severely visually impaired subjects and obtained information about cancer incidence from the Swedish Cancer Registry. We calculated standardized incidence ratios (SIRs) based on the number of person-years and incidence rates specific for national age, sex, and calendar year. Totally blind people had a lower incidence of all cancers combined [SIR = 0.69; 95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.59-0.82]. The risk reduction was observed in both men and women and was equally pronounced in hormone-dependent tumors as in other types of cancer. In the severely visually impaired, SIR was 0.95 (95% CI = 0.91-1.00). The findings support the hypothesis that blind people have a lower cancer incidence, although other explanations than the higher melatonin exposure must also be considered.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Blindness / complications*
  • Blindness / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Melatonin / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Registries
  • Sweden / epidemiology
  • Visually Impaired Persons*


  • Melatonin