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01.12.2017 | Hypothesis | Ausgabe 1/2017 Open Access

Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology 1/2017

Can yesterday’s smoking research inform today’s shiftwork research? Epistemological consequences for exposures and doses due to circadian disruption at and off work

Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology > Ausgabe 1/2017
Thomas C. Erren, Philip Lewis


In 1950, landmark epidemiology studies by Wynder & Graham and Doll & Hill contributed to identifying smoking as a potent carcinogen. In 2007, IARC classified shiftwork involving circadian disruption (CD) as probably carcinogenic; however, epidemiological evidence in regards to the carcinogenicity of shiftwork that involves nightwork is conflicting.
We hypothesize that shiftwork research is lacking chronobiological and methodological rigor and that lessons can be learned from comparison with smoking research. Herein, we provide a factual view at, and a fictional case study of, 1940s smoking research which serves as an analogy for current shiftwork research dilemmas. This analogy takes the form of limiting counting cigarettes to a particular time window (i.e. at work) rather than assessing exposures to, and doses of, accumulated smoking over 24 h, highlighting the importance of exposure and dose. Simply put, smoking insights could have been delayed or even disallowed.
In conclusion, CD may be similar to smoking insofar as for quantitative measures of cumulative doses, exposures both at and off work may have to be considered. Future work must explore whether such similarity factually exists and whether CD is a cancer hazard in IARC terms.
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