Prolonged work-related stress in men has been tied to increased chances of cancer at five sites; lung, colon, rectal, stomach and lymphatic. The results come from a new population based, case-control study, one of the first to look at stress over a full working lifetime, published in Preventive Medicine.

The researchers interviewed 3,615 individuals, 3,103 who were diagnosed with cancer between 1979 and 1985, and 512 controls. There were a total of 11 different types of cancer diagnoses.

The link between stress-related work and cancer was exclusive to men who were exposed to work-related stress for over 15 years. No link between work-related stress and cancer was found in those individuals who were in stressful jobs for less than 15 years. 

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Employment in at least one stressful job was associated with increased odds of cancers of the lung (OR: 1.33, 95% CI: 1.01–1.75), colon (OR: 1.51, 95% CI: 1.15–1.98), bladder (OR: 1.37, 95% CI: 1.03–1.81), rectal (OR: 1.52, 95% CI: 1.10–2.10), and stomach (OR: 1.53, 95% CI: 1.08–2.15). 

The authors also found that apart from workload, participants had a wide-range of factors that impacted perceived stress levels such as customer service, sales commissions, responsibilities, a participant’s anxiety, job insecurity, financial problems, challenging or dangerous work conditions, employee supervision, interpersonal conflict, and a difficult commute.

“Our study shows the importance of measuring stress at different points in an individual’s working life,” write the authors. They also caution that the study had its limits in that it was based on a summary assessment of work-related stress for a given job. They call for epidemiological studies to be carried out, based on reliable stress measurements, that can be repeated over time.

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