Denmark compensates women who develop cancer after working night shifts

In collaboration with the Press Association

Denmark has begun paying compensation to women who have developed breast cancer after working night shifts for many years.

The move follows a decision in 2007 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to re-designate shift work as a 'probable' carcinogen. The UN advisory body had previously only regarded it as a 'possible' cause of cancer.

However, Cancer Research UK notes that the evidence linking shift work to an increased risk of breast cancer still requires further clarification.

So far, 40 women have received payments from the Danish government, although women with a family history of breast cancer have had their claims rejected.

The Health and Safety Executive has commissioned a full analysis of the evidence linking night shifts to breast cancer and the research is due to be completed in 2011.

Dr Kat Arney, Cancer Research UK's senior science information officer, commented: "A number of studies link nightshift work with breast cancer risk. But this has not been conclusively shown.

"At the moment we don't know how other lifestyle factors - such as taking HRT, obesity, having fewer children and alcohol consumption - interact with shift work to increase a woman's risk of breast cancer. Nor do we know how many years of shift work might have a significant impact on risk. Another problem is that most studies have only looked at specific occupations rather than shift workers in general."

Dr Arney continued: "We will know more about the risks to British women from the Health and Safety Executive's study, which is due to be completed by 2011. Until then, we advise all women to be breast aware and go straight to their doctor if they notice any unusual changes in their breasts that are not normal for them, and go for screening when invited."