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Outdoor light at night at residences and breast cancer risk in Canada


Experimental and epidemiologic studies suggest that light at night (LAN) exposure disrupts circadian rhythm, and this disruption may increase breast cancer risk. We investigated the potential association between residential outdoor LAN and breast cancer risk. A population-based case–control study was conducted in Vancouver, British Columbia and Kingston, Ontario, Canada with incident breast cancer cases, and controls frequency matched by age in the same region. This analysis was restricted to 844 cases and 905 controls who provided lifetime residential histories. Using time-weighted average duration at each home 5–20 years prior to study entry, two measures of cumulative average outdoor LAN were calculated using two satellite data sources. Logistic regression was used to estimate the relationship between outdoor LAN and breast cancer risk, considering interactions for menopausal status and night shift work. We found no association between residential outdoor LAN and breast cancer for either measure of LAN [OR comparing highest vs. lowest tertile (DNB) = 0.95, 95% CI 0.70–1.27]. We also found no association when considering interactions for menopausal status and past/current night work status. These findings were robust to changes to years of residential data considered, residential mobility, and longer exposure windows. Our findings are consistent with studies reporting that outdoor LAN has a small effect or no effect on breast cancer risk.

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We would like to thank all study participants. We would like to acknowledge our funding sources (see Funding section), and the DAAD German Faculty Research Exchange for funding travel for collaboration. The U.S. Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Operational Linescan System (DMSP) and the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite Day-Night Band (DNB) Images and data processing was done by NOAA’s National Geophysical Data Center, and by Alejandro Sánchez de Miguel (Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter). This paper is dedicated to the late Dr. Richard Stevens who postulated the association between ambient light at night and breast cancer risk, and steadfastly encouraged research.


This study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) (Grant Number 69036), Breast Cancer Action Kingston (Grant Number 70125), the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme ERA-PLANET (Grant Number 689443), via the GEOEssential project, and the Helmholtz Association Initiative and Networking Fund (Grant Number ERC-RA-0031).

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Correspondence to Kristan J. Aronson.

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Ritonja, J., McIsaac, M.A., Sanders, E. et al. Outdoor light at night at residences and breast cancer risk in Canada. Eur J Epidemiol (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10654-020-00610-x

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  • Light at night
  • Breast cancer
  • Circadian disruption
  • Case–control study
  • Night work
  • Women’s health