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Examine: Morning folks much less more likely to develop breast most cancers

08 November 2018

Women who are considered morning people are less likely to develop breast cancer than those who have more energy in the evenings, according to researchers. They found two in 100 owls developed breast cancer over an eight year period, compared to one in 100 larks.

The analysis of the UK Biobank women also gave similar results, with the team finding that a preference for mornings reduced the risk of breast cancer by 48 per cent, although there was less evidence of an association between insomnia or sleep duration on risk of breast cancer in this group.

Led by Dr Rebecca Richmond at the University of Bristol, UK, along with the University of Manchester, the University of Exeter, and U.S. and Norwegian researchers, the large-scale study looked at data from taken from 409,166 women to investigate how a person's preference for mornings or evenings as well as their sleep habits may contribute to the development of breast cancer.

"In other words, it may not be the case that changing your habits changes your risk of breast cancer; it may be more complex than that", she said.

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Dr Richmond said further research is required to "investigate the mechanism underlying the effects of different sleep characteristics on the risk of developing breast cancer".

Dr. Sowmiya Moorthie, senior policy analyst in epidemiology at PHG Foundation, who was not involved in the research, added that the study's major strength is the use of "multiple approaches to examine the links between sleep traits and breast cancer, which allows the researchers to demonstrate consistency in their findings".

However Dr Richard Berks, senior research communications officer at the charity Breast Cancer Now, said it's too early to make any recommendations to women about their sleeping patterns based on this research. "In such a scenario, sleep patterns may be associated with risk of breast cancer, but not directly cause it".

There is good news if you are a morning person. Does the body clock affect hormone levels to alter cancer risk, or the immune system, or metabolism?

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"We know that sleep is important generally for health", said Richmond.

"Previous research has looked at the impact of shift work, but this is showing there may be a risk factor for all women".

The findings have been published on researchers' website bioRxiv but have not yet gone through scientific peer review. "I wouldn't support that women should get up earlier to reduce risk of breast cancer".

"These are interesting findings that provide further evidence of how our body clock and our natural sleep preference is implicated in the onset of breast cancer".

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Examine: Morning folks much less more likely to develop breast most cancers