It's nothing new that night shifts are not exactly great for a person's long-term health, but an increased risk of ovarian cancer is a novelty indeed. Previous research already suggested a link between breast cancer and night shifts. Now, one theory is that disrupting melatonin a sleep hormone could be what triggers the higher cancer risk.
Melatonin is suppressed in people who are awake at night. In women, that suppression causes the hormone estrogen to react differently as well. Estrogen plays a crucial role in the menstrual cycle and inside the ovaries. More research remains to be done, though it is already clear that there is a link between breast- and ovarian cancer too. Having had breast cancer, or having a family history of it, also increases an individual woman's risks of ending up with ovarian cancer.
If you're curious about the study's methodology, they examined women who had advanced ovarian cancer, beginning ovarian cancer, and those who did not have the cancer at all. The study team, which published its findings in the Occupational and Environmental Medicine, noted that their research was relevant only for women aged over 50. They also said that working night shifts for a longer period of time did not increase the risk further. But wait, there's more. I found it particularly interesting to read that there were differences in cancer risk between women who described themselves as "night owls" and those who didn't. In other words, women working in industries like healthcare, catering, and admin who naturally preferred to be active at night were not harmed by night shifts as much as others. Of course and as always, the mystery is far from solved.
Dr Parveen Bhatti from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, and the study's author, said: "There are a lot of details about shift work that we weren't able to capture things like permanent or rotating shifts. And we need to get more information on chronotype, that is whether you are a morning or evening person, and incorporate that into future studies." In the meantime, you may want to stay away from night shifts if you have any of the risk factors for ovarian cancer. And, while we are talking about ovarian cancer, did you know that this is not one of the cancers that is routinely screened for? If you have a family history of ovarian or breast cancer, or if you are just very health-conscious, you may want to ask your OBGYN about screening for ovarian cancer.
Symptoms and diagnosis of ovarian cancer
What would the symptoms of ovarian cancer be? As with almost all gynecological conditions, they are vague and non-specific. Because general pelvic symptoms can be caused by so many different medical conditions, it is so very important to head to your doctor when you notice something is off. You are too important to be treated casually, even by yourself! The symptoms you may experience with ovarian cancer are:
- Pelvic pain or pressure.
- Abdominal welling or bloating.
- Digestive issues that just won't go away.
- Frequent urination.
- Loss of appetite.
- Lower back pain.
Should you wait until you have symptoms to see a doctor? Prevention is the best cure, and it is always helpful to go through a full gynecological checkup on a regular basis (like once a year). These preventative checkups will help you spot any problem you have in your reproductive area early on, which almost always helps enormously. The screening and diagnostic process for ovarian cancer includes:
- A normal pelvic/gynecological exam.
- Ultrasound to observe the ovaries.
- A biopsy of ovarian tissue, which is taken by laparoscopy.
- The CA125 blood test, which is a tumor marker for ovarian cancer.