Study Shows Teachers Have Higher Cancer Rates – Tips to Reduce Your Risk

Survey Shows Teachers Have Increased Cancer Risks - Here’s How You Can Combat That

Study Shows Teachers Have Increased Cancer Risks – Here’s How You Can Reduce That

Almost any teacher will tell you the profession is hard on our bodies and health. Insanely long hours, crazy stress and lack of sleep wreck havoc on physical, emotional and mental health. The impact of teaching can be serious. Research has found teachers are at increased risk for several types of cancer. Knowing the facts can help you make decisions to offset the increased risk.

Data shows teachers are at increased cancer risk.

A study completed in 2002 analyzed the cancer risk of 133,500 female teachers living in California. The participants completed a detailed questionnaire mailed to female members of the California State Retirement System. The questionnaires were compared to data contained in the California Cancer Registry.

The study found the teachers had dramatically higher cancer rates compared to other Californian women. The shocking statistics included: 

  • 51% higher breast cancer risk
  • 72% higher endometrial cancer risk
  • 28% higher ovarian cancer risk
  • 59% higher melanoma risk
  • 47% higher lymphoma risk
  • 28% higher leukemia risk

Factors that increase or decrease cancer risk:

Researchers believe teachers share several environmental and lifestyle factors that increase their cancer risk. Below are some main factors that are linked to cancer, and how the teachers studied compared to the other non-teachers in the study.

Having children at a younger age: Giving birth in your twenties lowers your risk of breast cancer. The risk continues to decrease with each birth of a child. Teachers in the study experienced their first pregnancy at a later age and had fewer children compared to other California women. The study also found teachers were more likely to never become pregnant than non-teachers. The study also found teachers had a higher rate of hormone replacement therapy, which may be linked to breast cancer. Women with a higher education level have an increased risk of breast cancer in general, likely due to having children at a later age due to focusing on college and starting a career first. 

Hysterectomies: Hysterectomies have been found to reduce risk of breast cancer by 50% and ovarian cancer risk by 85% – 95% in women with the BRCA gene mutation. Teachers in the study were less likely to have had a hysterectomy than other women. A hysterectomy is a major surgery and is not without risks. It also takes weeks of recovery, which is very difficult for teachers to arrange. 

Body mass index: Higher body mass indexes are attributed to increased risk of most types of cancers. Teachers in the study had an 11% lower body mass index than other women.  

Limiting alcohol intake: Having one glass of wine is believed to be beneficial to heart health. However, indulging in two or more servings of alcohol a day – including wine – increases cancer risk.

Smoking: Smoking increases cancer risk. Teachers studied were 12% less likely to smoke than other California women.

 California teachers studiedOther California women studiedCancer risk increased or decreased for teachers
Average age at first pregnancy26.4 years23.7 yearsincreased
No pregnancies 21%14%increased
Had a hysterectomy 24%29%Increased 
Body Mass Index lower than 2561%53%decreased
Never smoked67%55%decreased

Teachers are at lower risk for lung and cervical cancer. 

The study did have some good news. Teachers are at a 34% reduced risk for lung cancer and a 47% reduced risk for cervical cancer. Precancerous cervical cells can be detected and treated before becoming cancer with proper preventative care. Teachers typically have health insurance as part of their benefits package, which might make it more likely they visit the gynecologist more often than women without health insurance, making it possible to detect cervical cancer risk early. 

How teachers can reduce their cancer risk:

Fortunately, there are many things we can do to decrease cancer risks. The American Cancer Society suggests:

  • Stay on top of all doctor appointments and checkups. Screenings, bloodwork, and preventive care are crucial so make and keep those appointments. 
  • Get and stay at a healthy weight. Engaging in other healthy habits, such as eating healthy, exercising and getting enough sleep will help with this. 
  • Eat healthy. Fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains are shown to reduce the risk of many types of cancer while fast and processed foods increase it. 
  • Exercise. At least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week reduces the risk of many types of cancer. 
  • Wear sunscreen. Working the morning bus loop or afternoon parent pickup? Accompany your class to recess? Even just walking around campus throughout the day. Make sure you’re wearing sunscreen!
  • Limit drinking. A glass of wine in the evening or an occasional happy hour cocktail are fine, but there are many other methods to unwind if you’ve been drinking more than that. 
  • Avoid tobacco. Stay away from all types of tobacco, including vaping. Also, stay clear of second-hand smoke/vape exposure. 
  • Make sleep a priority. While sleep itself doesn’t have a direct correlation with cancer risk, it does reduce stress levels. Lower stress levels are associated with lower body weight, which does reduce cancer risk. More sleep also means more energy to eat healthy, exercise and make those important doctor appointments, which are all crucial for reducing cancer risk. 

While the statistics of increased cancer risk in teachers are scary, knowing the facts is the first step in reducing your risk. Fortunately, all of the ways that help reduce cancer risk are good for overall health. Embracing these healthy habits will help you have more energy and feel better to tackle life both in and out of the classroom. 

Also Read:

Study Shows Teachers Have  Higher Cancer Rates - Tips to Reduce Your Risk

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Rachael Moshman
Rachael Moshman, M.Ed. is a mom, educator, writer, and advocate for self-confidence. She’s been a teacher in classrooms of infants through adult college students. She loves pizza, Netflix and yoga.
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