Breast cancer prevention often involves typical wellness ideals such as consuming a plant-based diet, exercising for half an hour a day, limiting alcohol intake, and avoiding smoking. New research from Harvard Medical School, however, has defined another potential risk factor for breast cancer, according to WebMD.

The researchers found that younger women who smoke have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer if they live in an area with a high amount of ambient lights at night. The issue revolves around a high amount of light at night that disrupts a woman’s internal clock and leads to less sleep.

The disruption of the body’s internal clock leads to less melanin production. This drop in the hormone levels increases breast cancer risk. The research group from Harvard Medical School followed 110,000 women in the US between 1989 to 2013.

“In our modern industrialized society, artificial lighting is nearly ubiquitous. Our results suggest that this widespread exposure to outdoor lights during nighttime hours could represent a novel risk factor for breast cancer,” study author Peter James stated in a Harvard press release.

The researchers looked at nighttime shift work among the women as well as satellite images to determine how much ambient light the subjects were exposed to.

The results show that premenopausal women who had previously smoked or currently smoke have a 14 percent higher breast cancer risk if they are in the top 20 percent of highest exposure to outdoor ambient light.

The results show that as the level of nighttime lights went up, so did the risk of breast cancer in this group of women. However, women who did not smoke did not have the same results. Additionally, older women did not have a higher breast cancer risk when the level of nighttime lights rose.

This research study was published in  the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women throughout the United States, according to Medical News Today. As many 252,000 people are expected to be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer this year.

The research shows that the link between this group of women and breast cancer risk was highest among night shift workers. The disruption of the sleep-wake cycle is likely to cause the rise in cancer risk.

Younger women who work night shifts may need to change their work schedules in order to keep their breast cancer risk low. However, the results from one study should not be taken as complete truth since there needs to be more follow-up research completed.

“The findings in this study have to be taken with caution,” Dr. Stephanie Bernik, chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told the news source. “Although circadian rhythm disruption may be a factor in increasing the risk of cancer, it could be other factors related to working at night as well.”

“Women who work night shifts may not eat well or exercise, both of which affect breast cancer risk,” she continued. “Also, the study found the risk greatest in smokers — which leads one to believe these women might not be living as healthy a lifestyle as the group that was sleeping at night.”

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