Women who work at night prone to breast cancer

Published by rudy Date posted on July 1, 2006

WOMEN who work at night, like those employed in call centers, could be prone to breast cancer and menstrual problems, according to an Institute for Occupation Health and Safety Development official.

Noting the increasing number of women working the graveyard shift — usually from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. — in the ubiquitous call centers, the institute’s executive director, Noel Colina, said this type of working arrangement could pose health risks for women.

He cited a study by the US-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center which found that women who work the graveyard shift may face up to 60 percent higher risk of breast cancer compared to those who never work at night.

The study showed that exposure to light at night may affect the production of melatonin, a hormone which is mainly produced by the pineal glands during the night, Colina said.

“Nighttime sleep deprivation or exposure to light at night somehow interrupts melatonin production, which in turn stimulates the ovaries to kick out extra estrogen, a known hormonal promoter of breast cancer,” he said.

Aside from the increased risk of breast cancer, night time work may also interfere with the menstrual cycle.

“Painful menstruation (dysmenorrhea), absence of menstruation (amenorrhea), and heavy menstruation (menorrhagia) are conditions associated with women taking the graveyard shift,” Colina said.

He noted that this was the main reason pregnant women are not allowed to work at night as it can adversely affect the health of both mother and child.

“Although the study isn’t conclusive, it provides us [with] pointers on how to address and protect the occupational health and safety of working women at call centers,” Colina said.

He said call center companies should provide free and regular breast cancer screening for their employees as well as seminars on how to prevent breast cancer.

They should also sponsor regular seminars on health and safety in the workplace and set up health and safety committees, he added. –Jerome Aning, Philippine Daily Inquirer

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