Early Risers Less Likely To Develop Breast Cancer Than Night Owls

Ben Davidson
November 8, 2018

Morning people who peak in the early hours of the day are less at risk of breast cancer compared to their "evening" counterparts, a study has found.

"Using genetic variants associated with people's preference for morning or evening, sleep duration and insomnia, which had previously been identified by three recent UK Biobank genome-wide association studies, we investigated whether these sleep traits have a causal contribution to the risk of developing breast cancer", Dr. Rebecca Richmond, a research fellow at Cancer Research U.K. and the University of Bristol, said in a press release.

Researchers also found that sleeping beyond the recommended seven to eight hours was linked to a 20 per cent increased risk of the disease per additional hour slept.

The research - which was presented Tuesday at the National Cancer Research Institute Conference in Glasgow - adds to previous findings suggesting women who work night shifts or sleep in brighter environments have a higher risk of developing cancer.

Results from 228,951 women enrolled in an worldwide genetic study conducted by the Breast Cancer Association Consortium (BCAC) were also included in the analysis. Still more studies must be done to understand the connection between waking up earlier or later in the day and breast cancer diagnosis.

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Cliona Kirwan, consultant breast surgeon and researcher at the University of Manchester, said: "The use of Mendelian randomisation in this study enables the researchers to examine the causal effect on breast cancer of different sleep patterns".

Experts not involved in the research welcomed the findings - although they cautioned that it was too early to change any behaviour until more research can be conducted. According to Cancer Research UK, around a quarter of cases might be preventable. The World Health Organization already says disruption to people's body clocks because of shift work is probably linked to cancer risk.

Careem, one of the region's leading technology organizations, launched a breast cancer awareness campaign in partnership with the Qatar Cancer Society last October. She told the BBC: "We still need to get at what makes an evening person more at risk than a morning person... we need to unpick the relationship".

Take our quiz to find out whether you are a morning type, or an evening owl.

"In terms of the implications of the research, it supports existing evidence that sleep patterns influence cancer risk, but it remains unclear how individual preferences for early or late rising interact with actual sleep behaviours", Moorthie wrote in an email.

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