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May 16, 2013 6:23 PM by Jessica Holley - jholley@kristv.com

Special Report: Possible Link Between Light Pollution & Cancer

CORPUS CHRISTI - Earlier in the week we learned about Angelina Jolie's decision to have a double mastectomy to reduce her risk of breast cancer. The cause of breast cancer still remains a mystery.

However, a researcher at the University of Connecticut believes he may have discovered why there's been such large a jump in the number of cases over the past few decades

Doctor Richard Steven's published his hypothesis of a possible connection between light pollution and the rise in breast cancer cases in the late 80's.

He pieced together two separate studies. One looks at changes in hormone level and breast cancer while the other examines light's effect on hormone production.

30 years later his hypothesis gains momentum. It's the reason we can't see the stars at night, unless you are far from a city. But could it also be the reason the world has seen such a drastic increase in breast cancer cases?

That's the question Dr. Stevens posed in 1987. "Well maybe the pandemic of breast cancer is due to the increasing use throughout the world of electricity to light the night."

In 1980, there were 640,000 cases of breast cancer worldwide and by 2010 that number jumped to 1.6 million. Dr. Stevens believes that jump comes from all the artificial light we are exposed to every night while we sleep.

Most of us try hard every night to keep the light outside from streaming into our bedrooms. To do so we close the blinds and the curtains, but even when I do all of those things in my own bedroom, then turn off the light, you can still see the glow of the clock, my router, and my night light.

All the glowing disrupts our body's circadian rhythm which lets our body know to work during the day and rest at night.

Texas A&M Corpus Christi neuroscience professor Dr. Riccardo Mozzachiodi uses marine snails to study brain function since their brain are similar to a human brain, just on a smaller scale.

Dr. Mozzachiodi says when light disturbs our circadian rhythms it effects our our body's natural production of hormones.

"The major effect is that if there is a glow in the sky, if the light is excessively high that even in a submarginal way it initially it can effect the function."

It's the overproduction of estrogen and lack of melatonin that concerns Dr. Stevens. He says breast cancer is hormone driven and linked to the hormone estrogen. Melatonin is suppressed by light at night and it also influences estrogen which is what he thinks triggers the increased risk.

"The more we learn about circadian rhythms and body clock, internal body clock, and how light at nigh disrupts that the more important it is to dim down the lights during the night," says Dr. Stevens.

Cities across the nation, like Santa Rosa, California and Brainerd, Minnesota, are turning down the lights. Even Paris, France plans to cut down on the amount of lights it illuminates between 1 and 7 a-m.

The City of Corpus Christi on the other hand is not as quick to jump on board. Dr. James Mobley is a medical advisor to city council. He says it's too soon to suggest any drastic changes to our city's lighting.

"The data is just not clear. The AMA's recommendation is more research not to take any action at this time. It would be very preliminary for city council or anyone to take steps," says Mobley.

With more evidence presenting itself confirming Dr. Stevens hypothesis, his idea is now being taken more seriously in the medical community.

Dr. Stevens says there are simple things we can do to help reduce our risk, like wearing a sleep mask at night and using dim lights. If you wake up in the middle of the night, don't flip on those bright lights, rather use a red night light to help you see.

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