Work-Related Stress and Cancer: Recent Study Examines the Connection

A recently-published Canadian study examined the possible correlation between work-related stress and cancer.
BY Brielle Urciuoli
PUBLISHED June 20, 2017
While nearly every single job has its stressful days, prolonged exposure to work-related stress can greatly impact an individual’s health and may increase their risk of developing certain kinds of cancers, according to a recent study conducted by researchers in Montreal, Canada.
Researchers from the University of Quebec and University of Montreal examined 3,103 men from 11 different workplaces who developed cancer. They were compared with 512 population controls.
The results found that employment in at least one stressful job increased the odds of lung, colon, bladder, rectal and stomach cancer. A duration-response trend was seen for cancers of the lung, colon, rectum, stomach and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
“Prolonged exposure to perceived stress at work was associated with greater odds of cancer at five of 11 sites,” noted the authors.
Prolonged exposure, according to the authors, was anything over 15 years. There was no association between stress exposure for less than 15 years and cancer risk.
Plenty of studies have previously proven that stress can have detrimental health effects, but few, if any, studied work-related stress and its specific impact on odds of developing cancer.
To determine if there was a correlation, researchers gave participants questionnaires to fill out, which asked if they had frequent anxiety or depression or troubling sleeping at least once a week for six months. These were noted as the “psychological symptoms.” Participants were also asked about other factors such as their lifestyle and socioeconomic status. Then, the second part of the questionnaire specifically asked about their career, company and job description, as well as their perceived anxiety they experience from work.
Careers that had the highest amount of men who reported being stressed included: firefighters (40 percent); aerospace engineers (31 percent); and motor vehicle, rail transport mechanics and repairmen (28 percent).
As for socioeconomic status and stress, the study found that “men in the upper category of perceived stress duration (greater than 30 years) had the highest family income, the heaviest coffee and alcohol drinkers and reported psychological symptoms most often.”
The most common reasons cited for work-related stress included: high demand, time pressure, responsibilities, anxious temperament, financial insecurity, dangerous workplace, employee supervision, personal conflicts, difficult working conditions and traffic.
The authors said that more studies examining the correlation between work-related stress and cancer are crucial moving forward.
“While over-reporting of stress cannot be fully ruled out, these associations, if substantial, would bear public health significance. Prospective studies building on detailed stress assessment protocols considering all sources and changes over the career are necessary.”
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