A new study has assessed the link between cancer and work-related stress in men throughout their lifetime. The study showed that for men, prolonged exposure to work-related stress has been linked to an increased likelihood of lung, colon, rectal, and stomach cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The findings were recently published in the journal Preventive Medicine.
“I was not surprised by the study. Stress is rarely a good thing,” says Larry D. Cripe, MD who specializes in palliative care, hematology and oncology at Indiana University Health’s Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center. “Still, the findings are preliminary. There are always factors that the authors cannot control.”
Does Dr. Cripe think there’s a link between cancer and work-related stress?
“I can imagine that stress modifies the immune system and, as a consequence, the immune system is less capable of eliminating cancer cells. But there are lots of hypotheticals.”
Furthermore, he says, linking stress to cancer can be a slippery slope. “I am reluctant to overstate the link, because I believe it feeds into an unfair sense that there are people who are prone to cancer for psychological reasons or that people could do more to avoid cancer. People have enough guilt about stress.”
Having said that, there’s little doubt that stress is not good for your health. So how do we go about creating a healthier, less stressful life? “Make sure you're eating a healthy diet and working out, and not taking your stressful job home with you,” he says.
And if your job is just too stressful? It might be time to look for a different job. Or, if you’re like most of us and changing jobs isn’t an option, Dr. Cripe suggests the following. “I use a three prong strategy: a) avoid or minimize work related expectations (pressures) by being careful in what is "signed up for;" b) try to optimize skill sets to feel more capable of meeting the work related expectations; and c) develop outside interests to stay as physically and mentally healthy as I can.”
-- By Judy Koutsky