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WHO Study: Night Shift Work May Cause Cancer

Hazards of painting, firefighting also examined by international research committee

BLOOMINGTON, Minn., Nov. 30 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A study by the World Health Organization has found that night shift work increases the risk of cancer in humans. The study found that after prolonged exposure to night shift work, women are at a higher risk to develop breast and colon cancer. Men who work the night shift are more likely to experience prostate cancer.

"Shift work that interferes with regular nighttime sleep disrupts circadian rhythms, our body's natural clock," said Dr. Erhard Haus of HealthPartners Research Foundation who chaired a subgroup of the study. "This impedes biologic function by suppressing the immune system, reducing melatonin production and may damage genes leading to the production of abnormal cells."

Dr. Haus was part of a team of 24 scientists from ten countries who met at the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, to assess the potential carcinogenicity of shift work, painting, and firefighting. The workgroup analyzed several epidemiologic studies and animal experiments. In addition to their findings on shift work, they determined that overall, occupational exposure as a painter is carcinogenic to humans. They also classified occupational exposure as a firefighter as possibly carcinogenic to humans.

A preliminary report of the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) will appear in Lancet Oncology, December 7, 2007.

Between 15 and 20 percent of the working population in the U.S. and Europe are engaged in shift work, which is most prevalent in the health care, transportation, communication, leisure and hospitality sectors.

About HealthPartners Research Foundation

HealthPartners family of care includes HealthPartners Research Foundation ( Conducting about 250 research projects each year, the Foundation is dedicated to advancing scientific knowledge through research to improve the health of our members and the community. Founded in 1957, HealthPartners ( serves more than one million medical and dental health plan members nationwide and is the largest consumer-governed, nonprofit health care organization in the nation, providing care, coverage, research and education to improve the health of members, patients and the community.

SOURCE HealthPartners
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