Denmark compensation for breast cancer

I am bemused by the extraordinary reports today that Denmark has paid out compensation to 40 women who (they believe) contracted breast cancer as a result of their shift work.
I am fully in agreement with our TUC that shift work can have serious health consequences - and it is invariably the poorest in society (cleaners etc) that bear the brunt. But - how can they be sure that working night shifts was the root cause of cancer? They suggest that lack of melatonin may be a cause but anyone living in a Northern European country and working indoors is likely to have depleted melatonin levels. And Vit D3 levels.
Surely these women had been exposed to other environmental factors beyond just doing night shifts. I have worked theatrical hours most of my adult life (Noon till 4 am). I have also smoked, drunk alcohol, consumed vast amounts of soya, been on the Pill, done IVF, been pregnant … blah blah blah.

There is never any conclusivity in this sort of research - just endless hypotheses it seems to me.
It’s like the alcohol thing. If we were being told that the xyz molecule plus the alcohol molecule resulted in cancer then I would feel more enabled to make decisions - rather than trying to deal with abstract science-speak like “data show that the more women drink, the greater their risk.” Why? How?

Hi msmolly

I heard this on the news this morning - found myself shouting at the radio whilst trying to get ready for work! (it must be an age thing since I hit 45 I shout at the radio and tv a lot !!!)

I worked nights years ago in a childrens home, cant believe for one minute stuff like this is potential high risk factor ??? And men get certain types of breast cancer too and I would think there are more men working nights than women - but they never mentioned any of this in the report this morning.

I would be keen to hear evidence of what they are saying . because if didnt sound too scientific to me!

Actually there have been quite a lot of reports about the link between night/shift working and breast cancer. Can’t quote chapter and verse but this is not a finding based on a single piece of research.

The Million Women survey has recently reported that alcohol increases lifetime risk of breast cancer from 9.3% to 10.6%…each of us I think has to assess our own attitude to risk. In my own case I think alcohol may well have played apart (along with having a short mentsual cycle, no children and ad ad with prsotae cancer) plus a does of nasty bad luck.


Hi Jane

I actually feel so guilty that my knowledge on research, support and causes / prevention etc is so limited - and that I am only now taking an active interest in all this information because it is affecting me personally - and for that I feel really selfish. I mentioned on another posting that irrespective of the outcome of my biopsy later this week I intend to get involved with anything I can to do with breast cancer research and support - it really has had a dramatic effect on me. It is such a shame that it took this to open my eyes.

I think we all probably spend sometime wondering if it was anything we did - Im healthy, have a good diet, exercise, had two healthy children, no real family history of BC - but I smoke - so obviously Im now thinking about it being my own stupid fault.!

My understanding is that this night shift thing emanates primarily from a recent UN (IARC) ruling.
My argument is that the studies are all retrospective and data led with researchers (statisticians) exploring patterns in relation to perceived risk rather than actual pathological fact.

It is non definitive and therefore it is all conjecture.

Yes Sue I shout at the radio too. I believe that in Denmark there is some anger that breast cancer has been singled out when the IARC ruling apparently suggested that night shifts were possibly carcinogenic for all and increased risk for all cancers.

I was at a BCC event 3 years ago when the night shift issue was brought up…but as I said can’t quote the reports.

Sue…getting breast cancer is not our fault! Current research suggest that a complex range of factors affects the risk of getting breast cancer. I completely understand that my own decsion not to have children may have upped my risk of breast cancer…but I don’t feel guilty or sorry about my decision.


I have heard the thing about night shift working before - along with HRT, the Pill, alcohol, underwired bras, too much carbohydrate(or was it the wrong kind of carbohydrate?),using deodorant, not enough Selenium in my diet, having children at the wrong age, not breastfeeding them for long enough etc. etc. I think the answer is nobody knows - and that’s the most frustrating thing. I don’t think any of us will ever know what caused our breast cancer - except the fact we all have breasts of course. Anyway, as a long term night shift worker, I’m off to put my claim form in to the NHS for compensation


Underwired bras…no evidence whatsover.


Risk is a very strange thing as far as I can see. When I was diagnosed, I got a leaflet on risk from this website and out of 11 know factors that increase your risk, I only had one of them - not having gone through the menopause by 50. I had my children in my 20s, breast fed each of them for 7 months, I’ve never smoked, I’m not overweight, I get plenty of exercise, don’t drink too much, blah, blah, blah… and it still got me (and I’ve never worked nights!!). How? Just rotten luck I suppose, but I think we should take all these things with a large pinch of salt. How many studies have we seen over the years that seem to prove first one thing and then another? If you read them, you should drink red wine to cut down your risk of heart disease, but then alcohol is implicated in cancer - what can you do?

I’m with Jane, having bc is not our fault. Let’s just live our lives according to what makes us happy. I think we owe it to ourselves.

Why can one person smoke 40 a day for 50 years and have no problems at all while a non-smoker contracts lung cancer at a relatively young age? Exposure to carcinogens does not always result in cancer.
The UN agency has said that night shift work is on a par with the handling of toxic industrial chemicals and should be declared a carcinogen.
I personally feel that a propensity to develop certain cancers is part of our individual DNA and that varying factors trigger them.
We have barely scratched the surface in understanding the relationship with genes and cancer. (The BRCA genes are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to breast cancer in my opnion.) I believe that in years to come simple blood tests at birth will be able to map out areas of specific risk for each individual.

Quite a good article in Guardian today about this…putting findings on night shift workers in context and explaining how it may be other factors about people who work nights shifts (like diet and exercise) which complicate the picture, rather thahn lack of melatonin.

I agree msmolly there is still a lot of work to be done on genetic factors.


Yes I read that Jane and I was pleased to see that they highlighted the randomness of plucking one element in isolation and using that to quantify risk.
I am intrigued by the relationship of sunlight/D3 to general health - the fact that breast cancer incidence rates in Southern and Central European countries are so much less than in the North & West. I find it extraordinary that Belgium or Holland have twice as many cases of breast cancer than Romania or Latvia or Lithuania. These central European nations generally have a meat-based diet full of dairy products and saturated animal fats - which surely blows a few risk theories out of the water.