Latest News » Study: Irregular sleep linked to cancer rates

A new study points to a specific protein as the reason why poor sleep habits may influence cancer risk.

New studies have shown that there may be a correlation between cancer diagnosis rates and the amount of sleep that people get on a nightly basis. In fact, research has indicated that people who only get minimal levels of sleep – like in shift work, for example – may be more likely to develop cancer over time.

Now, there is a study that has proposed a new mechanism potentially responsible for this relationship.

According to Tetsuya Gotch and colleagues at the Department of Biological Sciences at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, the protein hPer2 that regulates sleep cycles – known as circadian rhythm – also helps to protect against cancer development. Conversely, when our regular sleep patterns are interrupted, this protein may increase a person's chance of developing cancer. 

In order to discover their findings, the scientists examined human and animal tumor cells, and found that the protein works with another protein called human p53, a known tumor suppressor that helps to properly regulate cell division.

"When hPer2 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," explains Gotoh. "This is particularly a problem in cases where tumor suppressor genes are mutated, as it happens in more than 80% of all cancer cases."

While these are just preliminary findings, they could lead to changes in sleep practices, particularly for people working on a shift schedule. Other studies have also indicated of the relationship between cancer risk and sleep patterns, but attributed the association to the immune system, rather than an individual protein. Now that there is a more specific focus, future studies could show a more direct, or solvable problem, the scientists say. 

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