~ Cancer Danger for Women Who Sleep with the Light On

Daily Mail, 06-20-06

WOMEN who sleep with the light on or stay up late at night could be at a greater risk of breast cancer, according to scientists.

Researchers have long suggested that being exposed to too much light at night disrupts crucial hormones and raises the chance of developing breast tumours.

Women who work night shifts such as nurses and air stewardesses are thought to be particularly at risk.

Now, for the first time, scientists have demonstrated that long exposure to artificial light could be cancerous.

The study was conducted by scientists from the American National Cancer Institute and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

It could help 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 in Britain, affecting one in nine at some point in their lives.

Around 41,000 women are diagnosed each year and each month in the UK more than 1,000 die from the disease.

The research by the American scientists showed that exposure at night to artificial light could stimulate the growth of human breast tumours by suppressing the levels of the key hormone melatonin.

Melatonin is secreted by the pineal gland at night and helps to regulate a person's sleeping and waking cycles. Light, however, stops the body from producing it, making the body think that it is daytime.

The researchers proved the theory by grafting human breast cancer tumours on to rats.

Blood samples from women were then pumped through the developing tumours.

The blood had been collected under three different conditions during the day, in the early hours of the morning and after being exposed to light at night. Researchers found that the blood taken in darkness slowed the growth of the cancers by 80 per cent.

However, the blood taken after exposure to light appeared to stimulate tumour growth.

Dr David Blask, a lead researcher on the study, said it was 'the first proof that light is indeed a risk factor for cancer'.

He added: 'Evidence is emerging that 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 further studies, it could result in the introduction of a change in working patterns. Lighting manufacturers could also be forced to develop products which are more natural and similar to normal daylight.

Professor George Brianard, of the Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, added: ' Humans evolved on a planet without electric light over thousands of thousands of generations.

'The body is designed to be alert and awake during the daytime hours and to sleep at night.

'Now we have a 24-7 society that isn't in harmony with our biological design.' e.cook@dailymail.co.uk

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