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Many of us spend a sizable portion of our lives at work. But if you’re not careful, how you structure your workday can make you more liable to get cancer.
Research at Virginia Tech shows that people who frequently work late or have night hours on the job may have less of a protein that defends against tumors. The protein also organizes the body’s sleep cycles and maintains the body’s daily circadian rhythm.
“The protein, known as human period 2, has impaired function in the cell when environmental factors, including sleep cycle disruption, are altered,” says researcher Carla Finkielstein, who teaches biological sciences at Virginia Tech’s College of Science which is affiliated with the Fralin Life Science Institute.
Under normal circumstances, the human period 2 protein functions with tumor suppression proteins to prevent uncontrolled cellular division which can lead to cancer.
“When (human period 2 protein) is non-functional because it is either mutated or somehow modified, then, it is unable to do its job and prevent the cells from dividing at certain times of the day,” says researcher Tetsuya Gotoh. “This is particularly a problem in cases where tumor suppressor genes are mutated as it happens in more than 80 percent of all cancer cases.”
The researchers found that when you work late at night and experience late-night light exposure, your circadian rhythm is disrupted and the period 2 protein can’t properly defend against cancer.
Previous research has shown that women like nurses and flight attendants who frequently work at night have a greater risk of breast cancer.
“These findings highlight the complexity of the circadian-controlled network and emphasize its physiological relevance for human health and for new therapeutic interventions,” Finkielstein says.