Work stress raises risk of developing some cancers

Work stress is associated with an increase in the risk of developing some cancers, says a team of researchers. The researchers, from China, wrote about their study and findings in the International Journal of Cancer (citation below).

Work stress or occupational stress is stress related to a worker’s job. It frequently stems from unexpected responsibilities. Employees face pressures that do not align with their skills, expectations, or knowledge. Subsequently, their ability to cope suffers.

When employees feel that there is a lack of support, occupational stress can increase. Having little control over work processes can also exacerbate the effects of this type of stress.

In this latest study, the researchers gathered and analyzed data on 280,000 people in Europe and North America.

They found that work stress was associated with a significant increased risk of developing lung, esophagus, and colorectal cancers.

Work Stress - cancer risk
In an Abstract that precedes the main article in the journal, the authors wrote: “General public should be aware of the increased risk of cancer in employers with work stress.”

Work stress and cancer – geographical variations

When the researchers examined the data more closely, they found that the risk of developing different cancers was not the same in Europe as North America. Specifically, cancer risk associated with occupational stress.

They detected a link between occupational stress and colorectal cancer risk in North America. In Europe, however, there was no such risk.

Contrastingly, the link between occupational stress and esophagus cancer that existed in Europe was absent in North America.

In addition, they found no link anywhere between work stress and the risk of developing ovarian, breast, or prostate cancers.

According to Wiley, an academic publisher, the researchers wrote:

“There are several biological mechanisms whereby stress in work may lead to cancer.”


“Work stress and the risk of cancer: A meta‐analysis of observational studies,” Yongchun Chen, Tingting Yang Yan Qiao, Yongchun Chen, Siyun Xiang, Yong Gan, and Wenzhen Li. International Journal of Cancer (2018). DOI: