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April 21, 2011

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Desk workers at risk of bowel cancer

A new study suggests that spending ten years or more in a sedentary job almost doubles the risk of developing certain types of bowel cancer.

The researchers from the University of Western Australia found that even workers who regularly keep fit, or go to the gym are still twice as likely to get a tumour.

The findings, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, support earlier studies that showed that men who sit down most of the day at work are 30-per-cent more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than those in very active occupations.

The latest research involved 918 bowel-cancer sufferers and compared their working patterns with 1021 cancer-free volunteers. They were quizzed on their job history, lifestyles, and levels of physical activity.

Employees who spent more than a decade in sedentary jobs were found to be 94 per cent more likely to suffer a tumour in an area of the bowel known as the distal colon. Proximal colon cancer had no association with sedentary work.

The study also estimated that sedentary working patterns increased the chances of cancer of the rectum by 44 per cent over a ten-year period.

Posting an analysis on the NHS Choices website, the NHS Knowledge Service said more research is needed on strategies that can help reduce possible adverse health effects of prolonged desk work.

However, it highlighted several limitations of the research, pointing out, for example, that only 45 people with cancer of the distal colon and 96 ‘control’ participants had worked in a sedentary occupation for more than 10 years, and statistical comparisons between such small numbers can be inaccurate.

The NHS analysts also said the study relied on people recalling their lifetime recreational physical-activity levels and only used job titles to assess how much time people spent sitting down at work.

Bowel Cancer UK agreed that the study was relatively small but warned “the findings reflect the trend towards greater cancer risk in reduced physical activity found in other, larger studies”.

The charity’s Andrew Moffatt added: “The report poses a clear challenge to customary trends in office work, which we hope will encourage people to pursue ways to become more active during their working day. While this report may cause anxiety, it serves as a useful reminder for people to be aware of occupational-health issues and to engage in more physical activity at work.

“This activity can include taking the stairs rather than the lift, walking to the shops during your lunch break, delivering internal messages in person (rather than by telephone or e-mail), and taking regular breaks from your desk.”

According to Cancer Research, in 2008 nearly 40,000 people in the UK were diagnosed with bowel cancer. Symptoms of the disease include blood in stools, abdominal pain, and unexplained weight loss.

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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13 years ago

Researchers have discovered that more research is needed. As a desk worker I’m now told that I have twice the risk of developing bowel cancer. This article would have been more useful had it identified what the actual risk levels are. Has my chance of developing bowel cancer doubled from 1 in 1,000,000 to 1 in 500,000 or has it doubled from 1 in 10 to 1 in 5? There’s a bit of a difference in terms of how much I need to worry, and if I want to read vague health scares I can buy the Daily Mail.