Study Examines Link Between Stress at Work and Cancer

The risk of developing certain types of cancer can be increased by exposure to work-related stress.

Extended exposure to work-related stress may increase the risk of developing certain kinds of cancers, according to findings of a study by researchers from the University of Quebec and University of Montreal.

The study examined 3103 men from 11 different workplaces who developed cancer and compared them with 512 population controls.

They found that employment in at least 1 stressful job increased the odds of lung, colon, bladder, rectal, and stomach cancer, and 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 5 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.

Previous research has shown 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, participants completed questionnaires to report whether they had frequent anxiety, depression, or troubling sleeping at least once a week for 6 months. These were noted as the “psychological symptoms.” Participants were also asked about other factors such as their lifestyle and socioeconomic status. 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 with the most men reporting being stressed included: firefighters (40%); aerospace engineers (31%); and motor vehicle, rail transport mechanics, and repairmen (28%).

As for socioeconomic status and stress, the study found that “men in the upper category of perceived stress duration (>30 years) had the highest family income, were 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.

More studies examining the correlation between work-related stress and cancer are crucial moving forward, the authors noted.

“While overreporting 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.”


Blanc-Lapierre A, Rousseau MC, Weiss D, et al. Lifetime report of perceived stress at work and cancer among men: A case-control study in Montreal, Canada. Prev Med. 2017;96:28-35. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2016.12.004.