European Journal of Epidemiology

, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 1–4 | Cite as

Hypothesis: ubiquitous circadian disruption can cause cancer

  • Thomas C. Erren
  • Philip LewisEmail author


Circadian disruption (CD) was implicated in chains of cancer causation when the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified shift-work involving circadian disruption as probably carcinogenic in 2007. In the following decade, epidemiological studies into causal concepts associated with circadian disruption were inconclusive. Unappreciated complexity with an exclusive focus on shift-work, light-at-night, sleep, and melatonin in regard to circadian disruption may be accountable. With compelling non-epidemiological evidence, we posit that ubiquitous circadian disruption causes cancer and, moreover, that this is unexplored epidemiologically. This hypothesis offers a novel explanation why numerous studies in shift-workers evince inconsistent results: If circadian disruption is a ubiquitous causal phenomenon, confining assessments to the workplace, ignoring circadian disruption at play, and potential misclassification of ‘who’ is ‘when’ and ‘how much’ exposed to circadian disruption may disallow detecting the existence and magnitude of cancer risks. The rationale herein provides plausible explanations for previous observations and makes falsifiable predictions.


Chronodisruption Shift-work Cancer Circadian disruption Melatonin Light LAN Sleep Chronotype IARC 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors report no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute and Policlinic for Occupational Medicine, Environmental Medicine and Prevention ResearchUniversity Hospital of CologneCologneGermany

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