Desk job ups bowel cancer risk
Sedentary behaviour by professionals may increase the risk of distal colon and rectal cancer.
Image: sdominick/iStockphoto

Long term office workers may have cause for concern after a researcher at the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research (WAIMR) found that employees who work for 10 years or more behind a desk, have an increased risk of bowel cancer.

Terry Boyle, who is a PhD student at the University of WA, said the research suggested sedentary behaviour by professionals such as accountants or computing professionals may increase the risk of cancers of the distal colon and rectum.

Jobs were categorised into five groups ranging from sedentary to light activity (teachers, hairdressers), medium (mechanics, nurses), heavy (plumbers, farmers) and very heavy (miners, firefighters). The estimated effects of sedentary work on the risk of cancers of the proximal colon, distal colon and rectum were analysed.

The two year study involving men and women aged between 40 and 79 included a total of 918 cases and 1,021 controls who participated in a population-based case-control study of bowel cancer in Western Australia. Data was collected on lifestyle, physical activity and job history. The study was a collaboration between WAIMR and the UWA School of Population Health.

Compared with employees who did not spend any time in a sedentary occupation, study participants who spent 10 or more years working at a desk had almost twice the risk of distal colon (the left side of the colon) cancer and a 44 percent increased risk of rectal (the final portion of the large intestine) cancer.

Sedentary work was not associated with the risk of proximal colon cancer (the right side of the colon).

The findings were independent of recreational physical activity, and the increased risk was seen even among sedentary workers who did a lot of physical activity outside of the workplace, Mr Boyle said.

"Sedentary behaviour appears to be an important risk factor for many chronic diseases," he said. "It's important that office workers try to stand and take a break from sitting every 30 minutes, and do things like get up from their chairs and walk down the corridor to talk to colleagues rather than sending an email or making a phone call."

"It's also best not to have a printer in the office, so that a short walk is required."

The study has been published in prestigious international journal, the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Editor's Note: Original news release can be found here.