A review, published in the British Medical Journal, brought together 12 European studies looking at how “job strain” affected rates of cancer in 116,056 men and women aged 17 to 70 over a 12-year period.
To measure stress levels at work, researchers looked at job strain, which is generally determined by scientists as the relationship between the degree of control one has over one’s job and the pressure to deliver.
The job strain the participants were experiencing was categorised as: 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).
Results found that incidents of four of the most common type of cancer were not more common among people suffering high stress levels at work.
The research discovered that of the 116,056 people taking part, 5% developed some form of cancer during the 12-year period, however researchers revealed that there was no evidence to show that highly stressed individuals had a greater risk of contracting the illness.
The report stated:
“Our meta-analyses provided no evidence for an association between job strain and overall cancer risk or the risk of colorectal, lung, breast or prostate cancers.
“These findings suggest that work-related psychosocial stress is unlikely to be an important risk factor for these cancers. 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.”
However, the research does not rule out a link between stress caused by a traumatic life event, such as the unexpected death of a loved one, and cancer.
The authors note that in a French study, people with brain cancer were much more likely to report that something disastrous had happened to them than people without the cancer – although there was no clear evidence of a difference in work-related stress levels between the two groups.