Stressful Job? Don’t Sweat Cancer Risks

Cancer risk not tied to work related stress

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Stress can do all sorts of weird things to the body. Fortunately, job-related stress alone may not be enough to increase the risk of developing cancer.

A recent study followed men and women from six countries in Europe for 10 to 20 years to see if job-related stress increased cancer risks. Researchers found no link between job stress and being diagnosed with cancer.

Researchers said that job stress could influence people to do unhealthy things that could increase cancer risks, like drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes, but the stress itself was not cancer-causing.

"Find healthy ways to cope with job stress."

Katriina Heikkilä, PhD, a specialist researcher at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Helsinki, Finland, worked with researchers from Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, France and the UK to investigate whether job stress could cause cancer. 

For this study, the researchers reviewed 12 large European studies, which included 116,056 men and women aged 17 to 70 who did not have any cancers at the start of the study.

Researchers monitored job-related stress and the incidence of cancer in each participant for an average of 12 years. Adjustments were made to take age, body mass index (BMI), smoking, alcohol consumption and socioeconomic status into consideration as factors that might contribute to cancer.

A total of 5,765 cancers were diagnosed among study members, including 522 colorectal, 374 lung, 1,010 breast and 865 prostate cancers.

The researchers did not find a link between overall cancer risks and job-related stress.

The authors reported that previous studies have linked approximately 90 percent of cancers to environmental exposures. They listed ultraviolet light exposure, viral infections such as human papillomavirus (HPV) and tobacco smoke among common lifestyle risk factors for developing cancer.

The authors noted that job-related stress might influence people to drink more alcohol, smoke cigarettes or do other things that may increase the risk of developing cancer. But the actual job stress itself was not found to contribute to cancer risk.

The authors said their study did not take into account psychological stress or physiological stress outside of work as potential cancer risk factors. Rather, they only focused on work-related stress.

While job stress may not contribute to the risk of developing cancer, unhealthy lifestyle choices to cope with stress may increase cancer risks.

This study was published in February in the British Journal of Medicine.

Support for this study was provided by grants from public health and research institutions from each country involved in the research and various academic institutions. No conflicts of interest were reported.

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Review Date: 
February 7, 2013
Last Updated:
February 7, 2013