The increased breast cancer risk in female night shift workers has been postulated to result from the suppression of pineal melatonin production by exposure to light at night. Exposure of rats bearing rat hepatomas or human breast cancer xenografts to increasing intensities of white fluorescent light during each 12-hour dark phase (0-345 μW/cm2) resulted in a dose-dependent suppression of nocturnal melatonin blood levels and a stimulation of tumor growth and linoleic acid uptake/metabolism to the mitogenic molecule 13-hydroxyoctadecadienoic acid. Venous blood samples were collected from healthy, premenopausal female volunteers during either the daytime, nighttime, or nighttime following 90 minutes of ocular bright, white fluorescent light exposure at 580 μW/cm2 (i.e., 2,800 lx). Compared with tumors perfused with daytime-collected melatonin-deficient blood, human breast cancer xenografts and rat hepatomas perfused in situ, with nocturnal, physiologically melatonin-rich blood collected during the night, exhibited markedly suppressed proliferative activity and linoleic acid uptake/metabolism. Tumors perfused with melatonin-deficient blood collected following ocular exposure to light at night exhibited the daytime pattern of high tumor proliferative activity. These results are the first to show that the tumor growth response to exposure to light during darkness is intensity dependent and that the human nocturnal, circadian melatonin signal not only inhibits human breast cancer growth but that this effect is extinguished by short-term ocular exposure to bright, white light at night. These mechanistic studies are the first to provide a rational biological explanation for the increased breast cancer risk in female night shift workers.There are numerous studies now that show these connections. I am increasingly sympathetic to dark sky ordinances as a public health measure. Another study suggests a connection to heart disease:
Background The purpose of this study was to examine prospectively the relation of shift work to risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) in a cohort of women.Methods and Results An ongoing prospective cohort of US female nurses, in whom we assessed (in 1988) the total number of years during which they worked rotating night shifts (at least three nights per month in addition to day and evening shifts), included 79 109 women, 42 to 67 years old in 1988, who were free of diagnosed CHD and stroke. Incident CHD was defined as nonfatal myocardial infarction and fatal CHD. During 4 years of follow-up (1988 to 1992), 292 cases of incident CHD (248 nonfatal myocardial infarction and 44 fatal CHD) occurred. The age-adjusted relative risk of CHD was 1.38 (95% CI, 1.08 to 1.76) in women who reported ever doing shift work compared with those who had never done so. The excess risk persisted after adjustment for cigarette smoking and a variety of other cardiovascular risk factors. Compared with women who had never done shift work, the multivariate adjusted relative risks of CHD were 1.21 (95% CI, 0.92 to 1.59) among women reporting less than 6 years and 1.51 (95% CI, 1.12 to 2.03) among those reporting 6 or more years of rotating night shifts.Conclusions These data are compatible with the possibility that 6 or more years of shift work may increase the risk of CHD in women.