September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, reiterating the importance of acknowledging the detrimental effects working night and rotating shifts have on the body. Although prostate cancer is linked to genetics and advanced age, The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) also confirms shift work plays a part in prostate cancer. They have even gone as far as to classify shift work as a probable human carcinogen.

Night shift work is not the only type of shift work to be wary of. Rotating shift work, like working days to nights, also negatively impacts prostate cancer and overall health in general.

The Evidence Linking Shift Work to Prostate Cancer

Both night and rotating shift work interrupt the circadian rhythm, which causes sleep deprivation, increased stress levels, and vitamin D deficiencies from the lack of natural sunlight. The IARC has found evidence between longer durations of night shift work to aggressive prostate cancer.

A study was captured on 299 aggressive prostate cancer cases and 2056 non-cases drawn at random in the Norwegian Offshore Petroleum Workers between the years of 1965 and 1998. The results were astonishing, linking back to the cancer registry of Norway. Rotating shift workers, exposed to nineteen and a half years, were at an increased risk of aggressive prostate cancer over their daytime worker counterparts. Long-term rotating shift work was found to increase the hazard of aggressive prostate cancer.

IARC also found that the median age of the start of prostate cancer began by the age of fifty-two to fifty-four, and aggressive prostate cancer at the age of sixty-seven. Interestingly enough, their study also found that exposure to chlorinated degreasing agents was not connected to aggressive prostate cancer.

The National Toxicology Program (NTP) has also released reports on the link between shift work and prostate cancer. Their report points out the harm shift workplaces on the natural, biological circadian clock each of us is built with. The disruption of the circadian rhythm prevents our natural biologic system from doing the work it was designed to do, like stopping cancer in its tracks.

The circadian rhythm is connected to the body’s natural process of producing melatonin, the hormone that brings about sleep. Melatonin can also stop the growth of tumors and prevent the spread of cancer cells. With this information, it’s easy to see how disrupted sleep can grossly affect our body’s ability to fight off prostate cancer and cancers in general.

The workers who are at the highest risk of aggressive prostate cancer are those who work:

  • The night shift for at least three hours between midnight and five in the morning.
  • Three or more night shifts each week
  • Night shift for ten years or more
  • The night shift in early adulthood (before 30 years old)

Other factors may also play a part, such as the workplace itself and social stressors. Lifestyle behaviors like smoking, alcohol consumption, diet, lack of physical activity, and obesity can also impact a worker’s chances of increasing their risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Tips to Keep Night Shift Workers Healthy

We can’t always choose the shift we work. However, we can lessen the adverse effects that come from working nights and rotating shift work.

  • Check the NIOSH website and take their online training program on shift work to learn how to cope better while working the night shift.
  • Visit the doctor and address issues such as severe fatigue, sleepiness when awake, problems sleeping, stomach or intestinal upsets, irritability or negative moods, poor on-the-job performance, and unexplained weight gain or loss.

Other ways to combat the likelihood of getting diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer are:

  • getting enough sleep (we know, easier said than done)
  • eating a nutritious diet
  • exercising regularly
  • avoiding tobacco products
  • limiting alcohol intake

The Key Takeaways Regarding Shift Work and Prostate Cancer

We take a risk every day we go to work. Knowing what we know now, working long-term shift work is associated with an increased hazard of developing aggressive prostate cancer. There are ways we can lessen the probability of prostate cancer or prevent it from worsening. Participating in online training to cope with shift work is a great preventative measure, and regular doctor visits can help catch prostate cancer before it becomes too aggressive to treat.

Berge, L., Liu, F., Grimsrud, T., et all., Night shift work and risk of aggressive prostate cancer in the Norwegian Offshore Petroleum Workers (NOPW) cohort, National Library of Medicine

Berge, L., Liu, F., Grimsrud, T., et all., Night shift work and risk of aggressive prostate cancer in the Norwegian Offshore Petroleum Workers (NOPW) cohort, Oxford Academy International Journal of Epidemiology

Lawson, C., Whelan, E., Carreón-Valencia, T., et all., Recent News about Night Shift Work and Cancer: What Does it Mean for Workers? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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