Does work stress increase your risk of cancer?

TGIF. It’s been a busy old week for this little Elf. How are you doing? Feeling frazzled after a long week at work? Looking forward to the weekend? Hopefully you’ve been keeping up with both the Mental and Lifestyle Elves’ blogs this week on health and the workplace. Perhaps you’ve been employing some new tactics to keep the workload manageable, yourself healthy and the stress levels at bay.

Well, I may have some good news for you if you just cannot help getting overloaded at work. A recent study published in the British Medical Journal set out to investigate whether work related stress is associated with the overall risk of cancer and the risk of colorectal, lung, breast or prostate cancers. The news looks good.

The study involved the meta-analysis of individual data from 12 European cohort studies including 116,056 men and women aged between 17 and 70 years. All the participants were cancer-free at the start of the study and were monitored for an average of 12 years. The cancers that arose (all n=5765, colorectal n=522, lung n=374, breast cancer n=1010, prostrate cancer n=865) were identified from hospital admission and death registers. The psychosocial stress at work was measured and defined as job strain. Job strain categories were: high strain job (high demands and low control), active job (high demands and high control), passive job (low demands and low control) and low strain job (low demands and high control). All the models were adjusted for age, sex, socioeconomic position, body mass index (BMI), smoking and alcohol intake. This is what they found:

  • A harmonised measure of work stress, high job strain, was not associated with the overall risk of cancer
  • No association was seen between job strain and the risk of colorectal, lung, breast or prostate cancers


  • The study did not investigate the possible influence of non-work related stress or the effects of that alongside work stress

The authors concluded:

Thus, though reducing work stress would undoubtedly improve the psychological and physical wellbeing of the working individuals as well as the working population, it is unlikely to have an important impact on cancer burden at a population level.

So, take a deep breath if it all gets too much, count to 10, sit back and relax. Given that laughter is the best medicine, you could pause and read this tongue in cheek prayer I found on t’internet too.

A prayer for the stressed (Anonymous)

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I cannot accept and the wisdom to hide the bodies of those I had to kill today, because they got on my nerves.

Also help me to be careful of the toes I step on today as they could be connected to the feet I may have to kiss tomorrow.

Help me to always work at 100%-

12% on Monday, 23% on Tuesday, 40% on Wednesday, 20% on Thursday, 5% on Friday.

And help me to remember….

When I’m having a bad day and it seems that people are trying to wind me up, that it takes 42 muscles to frown, 28 muscles to smile and only 4 to extend my arm and smack them in the mouth!

Intended only to raise a smile!  Have a lovely stress free weekend Elf friends.


Heikkilä K ,Nyberg ST ,Theorell T ,Fransson EI ,Alfredsson L ,Bjorner JB ,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