New Research Suggests Graveyard Workers At Higher Cancer Risk - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

12/05/07- East Texas

New Research Suggests Graveyard Workers At Higher Cancer Risk

It's the middle of the night but millions of Americans are just beginning their work day. Firefighters, 911 dispatchers, nurses. They're just a few professionals required to work around the clock.

"We go from a dead sleep to being at the scene of an incident in less than 3 minutes so it's very stressful on the body," said Jeff Akin with the Smith County Fire Department.

But are these and other graveyard shift workers at a higher risk of developing cancer? Doctor Gary Gross at The Blood and Cancer Center of East Texas, said there are no doubt some unhealthy conditions. One concern is the slow production of a hormone in our brain called melatonin.

"People who work the night shift are under bright, artificial lights and it shuts off the production of melatonin in our brain," said Gross.  "And now we're thinking melatonin may protect you from cancer. So night shift, too much light, not much melatonin, more cancer."

Scientists also suspect overnight work is dangerous because it disrupts the body's biological clock. Something Renee Jacquez, a 911 dispatcher, said is hard to get used to.

"It does take a toll on your body because you have to recycle and train your body to sleep. It took me a long time to get used to sleeping during the day."

"That has to have a bad effect on your immune system and make you a little more pre-disposed to cancer," said Gross.  "Does that mean we should shut the factories at night and have everybody go home at 8, 7 or 6 o'clock? I don't think we can prove that."

While more proof is needed to confirm this research, doctors say it's still crucial for overnight workers to get plenty of sleep during the day.

"Pull the shades, turn off the lights, and let your brain believe it's nighttime even though it's 8 o'clock in the morning," said Gross.  "That's the closest thing to healthy living on the night shift."

The International Agency for Research on Cancer said it's adding overnight shift work as a probable cause of cancer. The American Cancer Society said it will likely follow.

Courtney Lane, Reporting  

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