Nurse's Station

Long-term shift work linked with increased breast cancer risk


It is so important that we all–regardless of age, gender or profession–take care of ourselves. But this is an especially important reminder for nurses, who often spend so much time devoted to the well-being of others that they forget to take care of themselves.

We get it; you work long shifts all week taking care of patients, only to come home at night and take care of your own families, too. But it’s so important to your well-being–both mentally, physically and spiritually–to get in those extra hours of sleep, rest and life enjoyment whenever you can. Even if that means scheduling them in each week!

One of the big reasons for staying on top of your healthy lifestyle? Long-term shift work is associated with a higher risk of breast cancer for women, according to a recent study outlined in The Huffington Post

“Researchers from Queen’s University in Canada found that women who had worked for 30 or more years on the night shift had a doubled risk for developing breast cancer compared with women who worked 29 or fewer years during nights,” wrote HuffPo. “However, researchers noted that the reason for this association is still less than clear.”

“While light at night and melatonin have been proposed as one pathway through which night shift work may influence breast cancer, and data from prospective studies has generally supported a protective effect of melatonin on breast cancer, biomarker studies of night work and melatonin are less consistent,” wrote the Occupational & Environmental Medicine study. “A role for other potential mechanisms has been suggested, such as sleep disturbances, clock gene dysregulation or lifestyle differences, and these should be considered in future work.”

The study looked at 1,134 women with breast cancer and 1,179 women without breast cancer, all around the same age and living in either Vancouver, British Columbia, or Kingston, Ontario. Researchers interviewed each woman about her shift work experiences, which revealed that a third of them had worked nights at some point in their careers. While small amounts of night shift work didn’t seem to make a difference, they confirmed an increased risk among women who worked 30 or more years of night shifts.

Just last year, a study in the same journal found a similar link between night shift work and breast cancer risk. These additional findings of the same nature drive home the idea that this is a real concern among nurses. And breast cancer isn’t the only thing to worry about – past studies have revealed increased risks of diabetesprostate cancer and sleep deprivation in shift workers.

For more potential health effects of working the night shift, click through the slideshow over on The Huffington Post.

In the comments below, tell us about your own experience with shift work, your health and the health of your fellow nurses. Are you doing your best to stay on top of your own health?

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