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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Review

Does architectural lighting contribute to breast cancer?

Mariana G Figueiro, Mark S Rea* and John D Bullough

Author Affiliations

Lighting Research Center, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 21 Union Street Troy, NY 12180 USA

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Journal of Carcinogenesis 2006, 5:20  doi:10.1186/1477-3163-5-20

Published: 10 August 2006



There is a growing interest in the role that light plays on nocturnal melatonin production and, perhaps thereby, the incidence of breast cancer in modern societies. The direct causal relationships in this logical chain have not, however, been fully established and the weakest link is an inability to quantitatively specify architectural lighting as a stimulus for the circadian system. The purpose of the present paper is to draw attention to this weakness.

Data Sources and Extraction

We reviewed the literature on the relationship between melatonin, light at night, and cancer risk in humans and tumor growth in animals. More specifically, we focused on the impact of light on nocturnal melatonin suppression in humans and on the applicability of these data to women in real-life situations. Photometric measurement data from the lighted environment of women at work and at home is also reported.

Data Synthesis

The literature review and measurement data demonstrate that more quantitative knowledge is needed about circadian light exposures actually experienced by women and girls in modern societies.


Without such quantitative knowledge, limited insights can be gained about the causal relationship between melatonin and the etiology of breast cancer from epidemiological studies and from parametric studies using animal models.