A recent study carried out in China has shown that women who regularly work night shifts could be putting themselves at a higher risk of developing some types of cancers. The results of the research, which analysed 61 separate studies into the potential link between long-term night working and 11 different cancers, has shown that women working night shifts are 20% more likely to be given a cancer diagnosis at some point in their lives.

The study looked at 114,000 cancer cases throughout North America, Europe, Australia and Asia. It was found that nurses were at the highest risk, with the increased risks being a massive 58% when compared with nurses who only worked during the day. Skin cancer and breast cancer were most commonly seen, at 41% and 32% retrospectively – although it was noted that the increased breast cancer risk was only seen in North America and Europe and not globally.

The study is very worrying, and has shown that there’s a possibly that the disrupted sleep pattern of these workers could be having a substantial effect of their health. “Given the expanding prevalence of shift work worldwide and the heavy public burden of cancers, we initiated this study to draw public attention to this issue,” said lead author, Dr Xueliei Ma, an Oncologist at West China Medical Center of Sichuan University. Dr Ma added that employers have a responsibility to help their staff ensure they’re getting adequate and regular sleep.

She added that the increased risk to medical workers like nurses could be due to the fact they are more likely to take part in screening programs, making these cases more likely to be detected. She said “Another possible explanation for the increased cancer risk in this population may relate to the job requirements of night shift nursing, such as more intensive shifts. Our study indicates that night shift work serves as a risk factor for common cancers in women. These results might help establish and implement effective measures to protect female night shifters. Long-term night shift workers should have regular physical examinations and cancer screenings.”

This isn’t the first time scientists have investigated the effects of night shifts on the health of workers. Previous studies have shown that employees who work nights struggle to maintain healthy lifestyles, eat less healthily and tend to be less likely to take up regular exercise. Night shifts have also been linked to smoking, which is the biggest risk factor for both cancer and a multitude of other deadly health conditions. It’s believed that the disruption to sleep patterns can impact biological processing in a major way and lead to “chaos” genetically.

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