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Sitting too long may increase your cancer risk
June 17th, 2014
10:49 AM ET

Sitting too long may increase your cancer risk

If you’re spending a lot of time sitting every day, either in front of the TV or at work, you may be at higher risk for developing certain types of cancer, according to new research published this week in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The study found an additional two hours a day of sedentary behavior was linked to an 8% increase in colon cancer risk, a 10% increase in endometrial cancer risk and a 6% increase in risk for lung cancer. It did not find the same connection for breast, rectum, ovary and prostate cancers or for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Researchers came to these conclusions by analyzing 43 existing studies that included more than 4 million study participants and 68,936 cancer cases to measure the relationship between hours spent sitting and certain types of cancers.

It’s important to note that while the study identifies a link between sedentary behavior and an increased risk for certain cancers, the research doesn't prove cause and effect.

“Does sitting in front of the TV cause colon cancer? No,” said Dr. Martin Heslin, chief of surgical oncology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “But the recommendations (of the study) are awesome.”

Heslin, who was not involved in the research, says that in addition to sedentary behavior, several factors can increase your risk of cancer, including drinking or smoking too much, being obese and having a genetic predisposition.

It’s nearly impossible to say that any one of these factors causes someone to get a specific cancer, he says, but these are the behaviors we can control to help reduce our risk.

“You can affect TV time by turning it off," said Heslin, though he acknowledges it's not so easy to turn off work if you're stuck in an office all day.

In that case, Heslin suggests looking for opportunities to leave your desk, such as standing up while working or taking a walk, to reduce the number of hours you spend sitting down.

“If I ever have the opportunity to design (a meeting room), I’m putting a waist-high table in the room, and no chairs,” Heslin said.

According to an editorial accompanying the study, organizations such as the American Cancer Society and the UK Department of Public Health address the need to reduce hours spent sitting, but do not offer any quantitative recommendations or strategies to help people improve.

Daniela Schmid, one of the study's co-authors and a faculty member in the University of Regensburg's department of epidemiology and preventive medicine, hopes to change that.

"The findings of our study may encourage public health efforts to expand physical activity recommendations to reduce time spent in sedentary behavior,” Schmid said.

Previous studies support the findings in Schmid’s study. A 2012 study conducted by the National Institutes of Health concluded that sitting for several hours a day is bad for you, even if you are physically active. Researchers found even exercising at least 150 minutes each week – the generally accepted public health guideline for physical activity – can’t reverse the negative effects of sitting down for hours.

In that study, sitting increased an individual's risk for major chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and breast and colon cancers.


soundoff (87 Responses)
  1. Obviously

    Ban chairs!

    June 18, 2014 at 02:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Greel Chinson

    I work as a chair salesman. The jabroni who wrote this article is trying to put me out of a job.

    June 18, 2014 at 06:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. dustieryder111

    everything causes cancer...

    June 18, 2014 at 07:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Stephen

    Breathing raises the risk of cancer. You can't get it if you're dead.

    June 18, 2014 at 08:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. fidel

    another study by humans, for humans, reported by humans, to sell more products to humans

    June 18, 2014 at 08:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. John

    I quit reading this article shortly after starting to read it. It gave me a pain in the same area the article claims will be affected by cancer from sitting too much. I was afraid reading it further would give me cancer.

    June 18, 2014 at 09:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. puddintane

    What to do but smoke dope. It cures cancer, say experts. Smoke it sitting down, go ahead, eating junk food

    June 18, 2014 at 09:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. jpluttme

    A recent study showed that doing anything except exercising and eating and living healthy can cause cancer. 100% of the participants eventually died, but not all from cancer.

    June 18, 2014 at 11:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Robin

    Thats totally messed up im in a wheelchair I have to sit all the time

    June 18, 2014 at 13:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Rony

    Watching too much CNN causes brain damage

    June 18, 2014 at 15:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. localdeli

    oh, c'mon...maybe increased exposure to radiation from television and computers or formaldehyde from chair upholstery—did this study rule out other causes? That grant money might have served a better purpose.

    June 18, 2014 at 15:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Rob

    This just in...Being alive causes Cancer!

    June 18, 2014 at 21:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. du

    Bring back real manufacturing, get rid of robots...

    June 18, 2014 at 21:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. jdoe

    In other words, Americans are doomed.

    June 19, 2014 at 00:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Frank Eggers

    Never sit down. Upon arising from bed in the morning, walk continuously. Eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner while walking. Don't ever have a desk job. Instead, get a job that requires walking all day. I don't know about using the bathroom; probably you should just do it as quickly as possible. Finally, when it is bed time, go immediately to bed without sitting down at any time.

    June 19, 2014 at 02:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Portlandtony

    Certainly man has been sitting forever since evolution has allowed us to develop a relative large posterior or butt that makes sitting comfortable.

    June 20, 2014 at 11:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. rudy

    BREAKING NEWS !!! reading this non sense causes brain cancer

    June 21, 2014 at 22:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. roperztpxb

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    June 22, 2014 at 22:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. mary ann

    Sooo. Eat less, exercise more. Groundbreaking. Simply life changing.

    June 25, 2014 at 23:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Nursalam Aprian

    When I'm sitting too long, I drink water so much, coz I think it can make me to hard for stand up And so, I'm wallking to lose my energy.... Step by step..... Thankss for information

    June 30, 2014 at 10:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. odalice feliz

    Exercise my people..... enjoy the art of working out...

    July 1, 2014 at 18:20 | Report abuse | Reply
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About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.