Night-time shift work has been classified as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).1 Work at night may cause breast cancer in women2 and could potentially cause other cancers such as prostate3 and endometrium.4 Shift work is also suspected to cause cardiovascular disease,5 pregnancy complications,6 and injuries.7 The negative health effects of shift work are thought to be related to circadian rhythm disruption, working conditions, fatigue, behavioural changes (e.g., smoking, diet), or stress.8
In 2006, approximately 11% of employed Canadians worked rotating shifts, while 6% worked regular evenings and 2% worked regular night shifts. Patterns of shift work varied among industries and between men and women. The sectors with the largest number of shift workers (rotating, evening or nights) were the retail trades, manufacturing, accommodation and food services, and health care and social assistance. These four sectors had over 20% of their workforce working shifts. There were many more men in manufacturing and women in healthcare and social assistance, primarily due to the number of men and women employed in those two sectors, respectively.
- Night shift work is suspected to cause negative health outcomes, including cancer.
- Industrial sectors in Canada with the largest number of shift workers are the retail trades, manufacturing, hospitality and health care.
- Understanding the patterns of shift work helps us direct research and prevention efforts.
Understanding the distribution of shift workers across industries and the types of shifts that they work helps us to design research studies, predict health impacts and target prevention efforts, with the ultimate goal of mitigating the adverse health effects of shift work.
In 2010, the Occupational Cancer Research Centre and the Institute for Work & Health co-hosted a scientific symposium on the health effects of shift work that brought together the research, employer, labour and workers’ compensation communities. A second symposium, focused on interventions to reduce the impact of shift work, is planned for the fall of 2011.
For more information, see:
Note: Shift work is generally described as a work schedule that is consistently outside of, or rotates from, standard daytime work hours.
- Straif K, Baan R, Grosse Y, Secretan B, Ghissassi EI, Bouvard V, Altieri A, Benbrahim-Tallaa L, Cogliano V. Carcinogenicity of shift-work, painting and fire-fighting. Lancet Oncol 2007;8(12):1065–6.
- Megdal SP, Kroenke CH, Laden F, Pukkala E, Schernhammer ES. Night work and breast cancer risk: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur J Cancer 2005;41:2023–32.
- Davis S, Mirik DK. Circadian disruption, shift work and the risk of cancer: a summary of the evidence and studies in Seattle. Cancer Causes Control 2006;17:539–45.
- Viswanathan AN, Hankinson SE, Schernhammer ES. Night shift work and the risk of endometrial cancer. Cancer Res. 2007;67(21):10618–22.
- Frost P. Shift work and the risk of ischemic heart disease – a systematic review of the epidemiologic evidence. Paper presented to the Scientific Symposium on the Health Effects of Shift Work. Toronto, Ontario, April 12, 2010 (http://www.iwh.on.ca/shift-work-symposium/frost).
- Bonzini M. Shift work and pregnancy outcomes. Paper presented to the Scientific Symposium on the Health Effects of Shift Work. Toronto, Ontario, April 12, 2010 (http://www.iwh.on.ca/shift-work-symposium/bonzini).
- Wong E, McLeod C, Demers PA. Shift work trends and risk of work injury among Canadian workers. Scand J of Work Environ Health. 2010;37(1):54–61.
- Shields M. Shift work and health. Health Reports. 2002;13(4):11–33.
- Demers PA, Wong I, McLeod C. The prevalence of shift work in Canada. Paper presented to the Scientific Symposium on the Health Effects of Shift Work. Toronto, Ontario, April 12, 2010 (http://www.iwh.on.ca/shift-work-symposium/demers).
Citation:Material appearing in this Cancer Fact may be reproduced or copied without permission. The following citation must be used: Cancer Care Ontario. Cancer Fact: Shift work in Canadian industries – a probable cancer risk factor. March 2011. Available at https://www.cancercare.on.ca/cancerfacts/.
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This Ontario Cancer Fact was prepared by surveillance staff in Prevention and Cancer Control.