This year (2009) the Danish Government has commenced paying compensation to women who have developed breast cancer after years of working night shift.
There appears to be mounting evidence that shift work could suppress the production of melatonin in the body. (Melatonin is believed to have some beneficial effects in preventing the onset of cancer.)
Read this article from BBC News, Scotland:
One of the reports published in the journal of the National Cancer Institute showed a 36% greater risk of breast cancer for women who had worked night shifts for more than 30 years, compared with women who had never worked nights.
There’s also mention of cardiovascular disease and gastro-intestinal disadvantages… which is old news… but also low birth-weight in babies and longer pregnancies for women.
Whilst other governments including the UK and Australia believe the evidence is not compelling the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the WHO indicates that prostate cancer may also be increased.
Dr Vincent Cogliano from the agency said disruption to the normal cycle of being awake during the day and asleep at night may suppress the production of the hormone melatonin, with melatonin showing in other studies as having beneficial effects in preventing some steps leading to cancer, and reducing the growth rates of tumors.1.
The Danish Government is the first in the world to classify breast cancer among shift workers as an industrial injury.
For those of you who might be able to change to an administrative job in your profession, or can see a career opportunity that is sideways from what you do now, then it may help to demonstrate the point about long term sleep deprivation or shift work affecting your general health and well being.
It does seem quite important for you to blacken out your room, turn the lights right off, etc. And if you do change shifts occasionally to a normal daytime shift I would be conscientiously walking in the sun in the morning and keeping good bedtime routines to reset your circadian rhythm when you get that opportunity.
1. Denmark Compensates women who developed Breast Cancer After Working Nights. Mail Online. Fiona Macrae and Marcus Oscarsson.