The impact of breast cancer on women across the world has been extensive and severe. As prevalence of breast cancer is greatest in industrialized regions, exposure to light at night has been proposed as a potential risk factor. This theory is supported by the epidemiological observations of decreased breast cancer in blind women and increased breast cancer in women who do shift-work. In addition, human, animal and in vitro studies which have investigated the melatonin-cancer dynamic indicate an apparent relationship between light, melatonin and cancer, albeit complex. Recent developments in understanding melatonin regulation by light in humans are examined, with particular attention to factors that contribute to the sensitivity of the light-induced melatonin suppression response. Specifically, the role of spectral characteristics of light is addressed, and recent relevant action spectrum studies in humans and other mammalian species are discussed. Across five action spectra for circadian and other non-visual responses, a peak sensitivity between 446-484 nm was identified. Under highly controlled exposure circumstances, less than 1 lux of monochromatic light elicited a significant suppression of nocturnal melatonin. In view of the possible link between light exposure, melatonin suppression and cancer risk, it is important to continue to identify the basic related ocular physiology. Visual performance, rather than circadian function, has been the primary focus of architectural lighting systems. It is now necessary to reevaluate lighting strategies, with consideration of circadian influences, in an effort to maximize physiological homeostasis and health.
Quick Facts about Light and your Health
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