Study: Does Shift Work Cause Certain Cancers?

Does shift work predispose you to cancer by altering the body’s response to hormones? And if so, can a dietary supplement help? Those are the questions researchers at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey (CINJ)--a Center of Excellence of UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School--hope to answer through a new study, which recently received $600,000 in funding from The V Foundation for Cancer Research.

The V Foundation Grant in Translational Clinical Research will support the work of the team led by Helmut Zarbl, Ph.D., ATS, associate director for Public Health Science at CINJ, and professor of toxicology at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, in the area of cancer prevention and circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are best described as one's "body clock," which controls sleep, hunger, hormones, and activity among other things in all living cells.

"We're very excited about this project," said Nick Valvano, CEO of The V Foundation for Cancer Research. "Through this important research, we're working toward a future where we can help people by preventing breast and prostate cancers."

According to Zarbl, epidemiological studies have consistently shown that women and men, who serve the community by working at night, have a significantly elevated risk of breast cancer and possibly prostate cancer. In fact, shift work that alters circadian rhythm is now classified as a probable carcinogen by the International Agency for Research Cancer.

Zarbl and his team have recently found that chemical carcinogens also disrupt circadian rhythm, leading to what he considers an imbalance in a protein that prevents cancer by regulating the cell's response to hormones. More importantly, they found that a naturally occurring compound, methylselenocysteine (MSC), found in many foods, prevents cancer in rats by restoring circadian rhythm and the cell's response to estrogens. MSC contains the trace mineral selenium, which a number of epidemiological studies have shown can reduce the incidence of several types of cancer.

During the course of the three-year grant period, the team will determine if shift work also disrupts the cell's response to estrogens, and if this effect can be reversed by dietary MSC. The team will address these questions in two groups of participants. The first group comprised of primarily hospital workers will be asked to donate blood while working the day shift, and again after working at least one week on the night shift. This group will determine the effect of shift work on various biomarkers related to circadian rhythm and estrogen response.

In the second phase of the study, 100 volunteers who engage in traditional "shift work" professions, such as firefighters, police, airline, and factory personnel, will be recruited through the New Jersey Family Medicine Research Network. For 30 days, this group will take an over-the-counter MSC supplement. Blood taken from these study participants will be used to determine if the MSC supplement can reverse the harmful effects of shift work on circadian rhythms and estrogen response. If so, the results will form the basis for a prospective study to determine if MSC supplements can prevent breast and prostate cancer in those who serve the community by working at night.

The award period runs through Oct. 31, 2011. For more information, go to www.cinj.org.

Download Center

  • Lone Worker Safety Guide

    As organizations digitalize and remote operations become more commonplace, the number of lone workers is on the rise. These employees are at increased risk for unaddressed workplace accidents or emergencies. This guide was created to help employers better understand common lone worker risks and solutions for lone worker risk mitigation and incident prevention.

  • Online Safety Training Buyer's Guide

    Use this handy buyer's guide to learn the basics of selecting online safety training and how to use it at your workplace.

  • COVID Return-to-Work Checklist, Fall 2021

    Use this checklist as an aid to help your organization return to work during the COVID-19 pandemic in a safe and healthy manner.

  • SDS Buyer's Guide

    Learn to make informed decisions while searching for SDS Management Software.

  • Risk Matrix Guide

    Risk matrices come in many different shapes and sizes. Understanding the components of a risk matrix will allow you and your organization to manage risk effectively.

  • Industry Safe

Featured Whitepapers

OH&S Digital Edition

  • OHS Magazine Digital Edition - November December 2021

    November December 2021

    Featuring:

    • GAS DETECTION
      How to Streamline Gas Detector Maintenance
    • OSHA TOP 10
      OSHA's Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards for FY 2021
    • PROTECTIVE APPAREL
      How PPE Can Help You Deal with the Harsh Condition of Winter
    • HEARING PROTECTION
      Tackling Hearing Protection in the Workplace
    View This Issue