Night shift work and the risk of endometrial cancer

Akila N. Viswanathan, Susan E. Hankinson, Eva S. Schernhammer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

232 Scopus citations


Melatonin has several oncostatic properties, including possible anti-estrogenic and anti-aromatase activity, and seems to be linked with fat metabolism. Night workers have lower levels of melatonin, which may predispose them to develop cancer. Endometrial cancer risk is influenced significantly by hormonal and metabolic factors; therefore, we hypothesize that night workers may have an increased risk of endometrial cancer. Of the 121,701 women enrolled in a prospective cohort study, 53,487 women provided data on rotating night shift work in 1988 and were followed through on June 1, 2004. A total of 515 women developed medical record-confirmed invasive endometrial cancer. We used Cox regression models to calculate multivariate relative risks (MVRRs), controlling for endometrial cancer risk factors. Women who worked 20+ years of rotating night shifts had a significantly increased risk of endometrial cancer [MVRR, 1.47; 95% confidence interval (95% CI), 1.03-1.14]. In stratified analyses, obese women working rotating night shifts doubled their baseline risk of endometrial cancer (MVRR, 2.09; 95% CI, 1.24-3.52) compared with obese women who did no night work, whereas a nonsignificant increase was seen among non-obese women (MVRR, 1.07; 95% CI, 0.60-1.92). Women working rotating night shifts for a long duration have a significantly increased risk of endometrial cancer, particularly if they are obese. We speculate that this increased risk is attributable to the effects of melatonin on hormonal and metabolic factors. Our results add to growing literature that suggests women who work at night may benefit from cancer prevention strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10618-10622
Number of pages5
JournalCancer Research
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 1 2007
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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