Too much night light raises breast cancer risk

October 21, 2015

The researchers say that women who work night shifts such as nurses and air stewardesses put themselves at particular risk.

It has been suspected for some time that long exposure to artificial light could be cancerous and this new study suggests that this could to some extent explain the rising levels of breast cancers in rich countries, where the risk of developing cancer is five times higher than in underdeveloped countries.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women and affects one in nine women at some point in their lives.

Thousands of women are diagnosed each year with the disease and each month worldwide thousands die from the disease.

The study by American National Cancer Institute and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences demonstrates that artificial light increased the risk of developing breast cancer by inhibiting the levels of the key hormone melatonin.

Melatonin is secreted by the pineal gland and this secretion takes place, in the main, at night.

The hormone regulates sleeping and waking cycles and it appears that the presence of light suppresses the production of the hormone.

In the study the researchers tested the theory by implanting human breast cancer cells in lab mice and blood samples taken from women were injected into the mice.

The samples were taken three times, during the day, in the early hours of the morning and at night after the women were exposed to artificial light.

The team found that the blood taken in darkness slowed the growth of the cancers by 80 per cent while the blood taken after exposure to light appeared to stimulate tumour growth.

Dr. David Blask, a lead researcher on the study says the study provides the first proof that light is indeed a risk factor for cancer.

Blask says more evidence is emerging that the disruption of a person's body clock is associated with cancer in humans, and that interference with internal timekeeping can tip the balance in favour of tumour development.

If the link between tumour growth and light is confirmed by more studies a change in working patterns may be seen and lighting manufacturers forced to develop products which are more natural and similar to normal daylight.

Experts say humans have evolved to be alert and awake during the daytime hours and to sleep at night and modern '24-7' society is not in harmony with our biological design.