For men, exposure to perceived stress at work throughout their entire career is associated with greater likelihood of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, as well as lung, colon, rectal, and stomach cancers, according to a recent population-based study in Canada.
The study, “Lifetime report of perceived stress at work and cancer among men: A case-control study in Montreal, Canada,” was published in Preventive Medicine.
Psychological stress describes what people feel when they are under mental, physical, or emotional pressure, according to the National Cancer Institute (NIH). Although it is normal to experience some psychological stress from time to time, people who experience high levels of psychological stress, or who experience it repeatedly over a long period of time, may develop health problems, including cancer.
Audrey Blanc-Lapierre at the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS), and colleagues at Université de Montréal in Canada, explored the association between perceived workplace psychological stress and cancer among men, in the context of an entire work career.
For the analysis, they interviewed 3103 men who were diagnosed with one of 11 cancer types between 1979 and 1985, and 512 men from the general population who served as controls.
All participants were asked to describe in detail each job held during their lifetime, including the occurrence of stress, and the reason why they felt stressed at work.
On average, men taking part in the study had held four jobs throughout their working career, with some holding up to a dozen or more jobs.
Employment in at least one stressful job was associated with increased odds of cancers of the lung, colon, bladder, rectal, stomach, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
These associations were observed in men who had been exposed to work-stress for 15 to 30 years, and in some cases, more than 30 years. There were no statistically significant associations between work-related stress and cancer for men who had been exposed for less than 15 years.
The most stressful jobs included firefighter, industrial engineer, aerospace engineer, mechanic foreman, and vehicle and railway-equipment repair worker. In some cases, perceived work-related stress varied depending on the job held.
Perceived work-related stress was attributed not only to a high workload and time pressure, but also to customer service, sales commissions, responsibilities, financial issues, job insecurity, hazardous conditions, employee supervision, interpersonal conflict, and a difficult commute.
“One of the biggest flaws in previous cancer studies is that none of them assessed work-related stress over a full working lifetime, making it impossible to determine how the duration of exposure to work-related stress affects cancer development. Our study shows the importance of measuring stress at different points in an individual’s working life,” study authors stated in a press release.
These associations, if confirmed in future studies, would represent important public health significance, researchers said.
Therefore “prospective studies building on detailed stress assessment protocols considering all sources and changes over the career are necessary,” they concluded.
According to the NIH, evidence from some studies have demonstrated a link between various psychological factors, and an increased risk of developing cancer, but others have not.
Apparent links between psychological stress and cancer could arise in several ways. For example, people who experience high levels of stress may start smoking, overeating, or drinking alcohol, and all these behaviors can increase cancer risk.