Light at night or shift work and breast cancer risk
This summary table contains detailed information about research studies. Summary tables are a useful way to look at the science behind many breast cancer guidelines and recommendations. However, to get the most out of the tables, it’s important to understand some key concepts. Learn how to read a research table.
Introduction: Women who routinely work overnight shifts for many years, such as nurses and flight attendants, may have a slightly increased risk of breast cancer.
One possible reason is the exposure to light at night related to these types of jobs. Being exposed to light throughout the night affects some hormone functions in the body that may be related to breast cancer.
Learn more about light at night, shift work and breast cancer risk.
Learn about the strengths and weaknesses of different types of studies.
See how this risk factor compares with other risk factors for breast cancer.
Study selection criteria: Prospective cohort studies and nested case-control studies with at least 500 breast cancer cases, and meta-analyses.
Table note: Relative risk above 1 indicates increased risk. Relative risk below 1 indicates decreased risk.
Duration of Overnight Shift Work
Relative Risk of Breast Cancer in Women who Worked Overnight Shifts versus Women who Did Not,
Prospective cohort studies
Nurses’ Health Study 
30 or more years*
Million Women Study 
Nurses’ Health Study II 
30 or more years*
Sister Study 
More than 5 years
Dutch Labor Force Surveys 
20 or more years||
Generations Study cohort 
30 or more years
Shanghai Women’s Health Study 
More than 25 years
Nested case-control studies
Lie et al. [7-8]
12 or more years
30 or more years
Danish Nurses Association 
20 or more years
Yuan et al. 
Kamdar et al. 
8 or more years
He et al. 
Jia et al. 
15 or more years
Megdal et al. 
Travis et al. 
20 or more years
Wang et al. 
* Rotating night shifts at least 3 nights a week each month
† Estimated from person-years
‡ Findings for all women who reported rotating night shift work at least 3 nights a week each month. Among women who reported rotating night shift work for 20 or more years when they entered the study (those who began working night shifts at a young age), relative risk was 2.15 (1.23-3.73).
§ All women in the Sister Study cohort had a sister diagnosed with breast cancer, but had not been diagnosed with breast cancer themselves at the start of the study.
|| Regular night shifts
- Wegrzyn LR, Tamimi RM, Rosner BA, et al. Rotating night shift work and risk of breast cancer in the Nurses’ Health Studies. Am J Epidemiol. 186(5):532-540, 2017.
- Travis RC, Balkwill A, Fensom GK, et al. Night shift work and breast cancer incidence: three prospective studies and meta-analysis of published studies. J Natl Cancer Inst. 108(12), 2016.
- Sweeney MR, Sandler DP, Niehoff NM, White AJ. Shift work and working at night in relation to breast cancer incidence. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 29(3):687-689, 2020.
- Koppes LL, Geuskens GA, Pronk A, Vermeulen RC, de Vroome EM. Night work and breast cancer risk in a general population prospective cohort study in The Netherlands. Eur J Epidemiol. 29(8):577-84, 2014.
- Jones ME, Schoemaker MJ, McFadden EC, Wright LB, Johns LE, Swerdlow AJ. Night shift work and risk of breast cancer in women: the Generations Study cohort. Br J Cancer. 121(2):172-179, 2019.
- Pronk A, Ji BT, Shu XO, et al. Night-shift work and breast cancer risk in a cohort of Chinese women. Am J Epidemiol. 171(9):953-9, 2010.
- Lie JA, Kjuus H, Zienolddiny S, Haugen A, Stevens RG, Kjærheim K. Night work and breast cancer risk among Norwegian nurses: assessment by different exposure metrics. Am J Epidemiol. 173(11):1272-9, 2011.
- Lie JA, Roessink J, Kjærheim K. Breast cancer and night work among Norwegian nurses. Cancer Causes Control. 17(1):39-44, 2006.
- Hansen J, Stevens RG. Case-control study of shift-work and breast cancer risk in Danish nurses: Impact of shift systems. Eur J Cancer. 48(11):1722-9, 2012.
- Yuan X, Zhu C, Wang M, Mo F, Du W, Ma X. Night shift work increases the risks of multiple primary cancers in women: a systematic review and meta-analysis of 61 articles. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 27(1):25-40, 2018.
- Kamdar BB, Tergas AI, Mateen FJ, Bhayani NH, Oh J. Night-shift work and risk of breast cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 138(1):291-301, 2013.
- He C, Anand ST, Ebell MH, Vena JE, Robb SW. Circadian disrupting exposures and breast cancer risk: a meta-analysis. Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 88:533-547, 2015.
- Jia Y, Lu Y, Wu K, et al. Does night work increase the risk of breast cancer? A systematic review and meta-analysis of epidemiological studies. Cancer Epidemiol. 37(3):197-206, 2013.
- Megdal SP, Kroenke CH, Laden F, Pukkala E, Schernhammer ES. Night work and breast cancer risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur J Cancer. 41(13):2023-32, 2005.
- Wang F, Yeung KL, Chan WC, et al. A meta-analysis on dose-response relationship between night shift work and the risk of breast cancer. Ann Oncol. 24(11):2724-32, 2013.