Travel a Lot? It May Be Elevating Your Cancer Risk

Items ready for travel, and serious circadian rhythm disruption

Items ready for travel, and serious circadian rhythm disruption |

Anyone who spends a lot of time on the road knows that it can be hell on your sleep cycle. This, in turn, screws up your internal clock — your circadian rhythm. While we can deal with the jet lag and drowsiness most of the time, eventually, it can create problems. Luckily, most of us don’t travel extensively. We only jump time zones every once in a while, be it for work or vacation.

But if you do travel frequently? There could be due cause for concern. These hiccups in our circadian rhythm evidently are causing some people to develop issues. In some cases, that can mean serious ailments, liver disease and cancer among them.

A recently published study in the journal Cancer Cell found there’s a link between circadian rhythm and certain cancers. Studying the effect of sleep disruption in mice, researchers found obesity-related issues, liver disease and liver cancer specifically, appear to be correlated with circadian rhythm. The team, from Baylor College of Medicine at Florida State University, says this points to chronic jet lag as a possible factor in developing liver ailments.

Cancer and circadian rhythm

Vials containing biological samples are stored on ice

Vials containing biological samples are stored on ice | Dan Kitwood/Getty Images/Cancer Research UK

“Chronic jet lag induces spontaneous hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in wild-type mice following a mechanism very similar to that observed in obese humans,” the study says. “This pathophysiological pathway is driven by jet-lag-induced genome-wide gene deregulation and global liver metabolic dysfunction, with nuclear receptor-controlled cholesterol/bile acid and xenobiotic metabolism among the top deregulated pathways.”

In English, this basically means jet lag and chronic circadian rhythm disruption causes certain imbalances in our bodies. This can lead to liver problems, as our bodies have a hard time dealing with the difference. In turn, we gain weight, which can then lead to liver disease and liver cancer.

“Recent studies have shown that more than 80 percent of the population in the United States adopt a lifestyle that leads to chronic disruption in their sleep schedules. This has also reached an epidemic level in other developed countries, which is coupled with the increase in obesity and liver cancer risk,”Dr. Loning Fu, co-author of the study, told ResearchGate.

Fu’s co-author, Professor David Moore, says that the study’s findings are likely to come as a surprise to many. “This experiment allowed us to take several threads that were already there and put them together to come to this conclusion,” he said. “We think most people would be surprised to hear that chronic jet lag was sufficient to induce liver cancer.”

Minimize the disruption

A man in a deep, exhausted sleep

A man in a deep, exhausted sleep | Photography

So, the main takeaway is disruptions to your normal sleep cycle aren’t good. By throwing a wrench in your body’s internal clock, physiological issues arise. This may result in weight gain, which can bring about all types of obesity-related maladies. As this study points out, it can lead to liver problems. From there, liver disease or cancer can manifest. Of course, this doesn’t mean you’ll definitely contract some awful disease just because you travel a lot. This study was only with mice, after all. But the experiments the Florida State team did do indicate some connection.

Can you do anything about it? Maybe, but again, for most people, this isn’t going to be something to worry about. It’s chronic jet lag these researchers are pointing to as the culprit in this study. Taking a vacation or traveling for business every so often probably wouldn’t earn the “chronic” tag.

But if you do travel constantly, and find yourself fighting jet lag and internal clock disruptions? You’ll have to make due the best you can. That may mean rearranging your sleep schedule, or planning weeks in advance. If you know you’re going to be going overseas, for example, you can prepare by slowly tweaking your sleep schedule. Go to bed an hour earlier. Wake up an hour later — whatever seems to work. It’s worth trying to keep circadian rhythm disruptions to a minimum.