Cancer: ‘Disrupted’ sleep pattern raises risk of several cancers

Cancer symptoms: Top 14 early signs to look out for

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According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) any sleep disruption is a risk factor for cancer. Specifically it lists circadian disruption as a potential carcinogenic. Cancer FactFinder explains: “‘Circadian disruption’ is defined as any change in sleep pattern, whether it is loss of sleep, difficulty falling asleep, or waking up during the sleep cycle.

“The body’s central clock is found in the brain and gets its cues largely from light.

“Presence of light tells our bodies that it is time to be awake, alert, and hungry.

“The body sets its clock on a 24-hour cycle (based on how much light it senses) and each organ system follows.

“Our circadian rhythm controls when we wake up, our appetite, our body temperature, and our mood.”

And a study, published in Cancer Research journal, found that people who experience jet lag, travel across multiple time zones, do shift work, have sleep disruption, or are exposed to light at night may be at an increased risk of several types of cancer.

These cancers were prostate, breast, colon, liver, pancreas, ovary, and lung.

The research, which was conducted by a university in the US, concludes: “Circadian disruption is an independent risk factor for cancer and has been classified as a carcinogen.

“As described herein, perturbations of the circadian clock strongly influence neoplastic transformation and tumour growth through alterations of multiple cancer regulatory pathways including cell cycle, apoptosis, DDR, and metabolism.

“While the robust link between circadian dysfunction and cancer is well established, mechanistic understanding is nascent.”

It is thought around one in three Britons will experience some sleep issues at least once in their lives.

The NHS states that adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep every night to stay healthy.

Cancer FactFinder suggests ways to reduce the risk of sleep disruption.

It says: “Sleep disruption and other cancer risk factors often appear together, such as workplace or social/life stressors, smoking, high alcohol consumption, poor diet, low physical activity, and obesity.

“Reducing these stressors and behaviours may decrease your chances of developing cancer.

“The Centres for Disease Control (CDC) recommends regular health check-ups and telling your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms: severe fatigue or sleepiness when you need to be awake, trouble with sleep or stomach, irritability, poor work performance (frequent mistakes, injuries, etc.), or unexplained weight gain or loss.

“In addition, try healthy behaviours to fight the effects of circadian rhythm disruption: get enough sleep, eat a nutritious diet, exercise regularly, avoid tobacco, and limit alcohol drinking.”

General symptoms of cancer include:

  • Coughing, chest pain and breathlessness
  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Bloating
  • Unexplained bleeding
  • Lumps
  • Moles
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Tummy or back pain
  • Indigestion and heartburn
  • Itchy or yellow skin
  • Feeling tired and unwell.

Certain people are more at risk of cancer.

These include those who have two or more close relatives who have had cancer.

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