Men Who Perform Shift Work At Higher Risk For Prostate Cancer

Jobs that disrupt normal sleep schedules can lead to a heightened risk of cancer in men, new study says.


Shift work can disrupt your normal sleep cycles, a phenomenon that has been tied to numerous health risks. Alarm clock image via Shutterstock.

A new study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital says that men who perform shift work have an increased risk of developing prostate cancer.

The study, which was published this week in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, found a relationship between men who performed shift work and elevated levels of proteins in the blood that are associated with prostate cancer. In a release from Brigham and Women’s, Erin Flynn-Evans, a researcher in the Division of Sleep Medicine at Brigham and Women’s and the lead researcher of the study, said:

“Our data shows that sleep and circadian disruption is associated with elevated PSA levels and that men who regularly perform shift work may have an increased risk of developing prostate cancer.”

Shift work is work that provides service 24 hours a day. Individuals who perform shift work often work the night shift, a practice that is known to cause many health problems in addition to an increased risk for prostate cancer. Rotating night shift work can disrupt natural body clocks, which leads to negative cognitive effects, loss of attention, memory deficits, and a higher probability of developing obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Prostate cancer is a large problem in the United States, with 238,590 new cases reported in 2013 so far and 29,720 deaths expected this year, according to the study. It is the second leading cause of cancer mortality in men. Age, race, and family history likely play a role in a man’s risk of developing prostate cancer, but this study is the first to find a modifiable risk factor: hours spent on the job.

Flynn-Evans and her colleagues combined the results of three separate National Health and Nutrition Examination surveys, according to the study, which helped them to determine the impact of work schedules on prostate-specific antigen (PSA) values, which measure the levels of risk-associated proteins in the blood. Researchers concluded that there was a strong association between shift work, which disrupts sleep rhythms, and elevated PSA levels, which are predictive of prostate cancer in men.