Study finds no evidence to link work stress to cancer risk

In collaboration with the Press Association

Work-related stress does not increase the risk of developing cancer, according to a comprehensive analysis of previous studies.

A total of 12 studies were analysed by experts from the IPD-Work Consortium, led by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and University College London.

The new analysis, published in the BMJ, looked at information - including stress levels - from more than 116,000 people from various European countries, including Britain.

Five per cent of the participants developed cancer during the average 12-year follow-up. But the researchers found no evidence of a link between people's stress levels and overall cancer risk.

They also looked specifically at the risk of bowel, lung, breast and prostate cancer, and again found there was no link between any of these cancer and stress.

The researchers suggest many of the previously reported links between stress and cancer could have been chance findings, or may have been influenced by indirect causes of stress such as shift work, which has been linked to a slightly increased risk.

They concluded that cutting work-related stress may improve people's general well being, but is unlikely to have a significant impact on cancer risk.

Dr Helga Groll, health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "These findings add to the evidence that stress doesn't directly affect cancer risk. Although stress can contribute to some other health problems, there has been no real evidence that stress itself could cause cancers.

"But stress can bring out unhealthy behaviours in people, such as smoking, overeating or heavy drinking, and there's clear evidence that doing these things can increase the risk of cancer. Living a healthy life is the best way to reduce the risk of cancer."

Copyright Press Association 2013

References

  • Heikkila, K. et al. Work stress and risk of cancer: meta-analysis of 5700 incident cancer events in 116 000 European men and women. BMJ 2013;346:f165 doi:10.1136/bmj.f165