Cancer Incidence Among Priests: 45 Years of Follow-Up in Four Nordic Countries

Eur J Epidemiol. 2012 Feb;27(2):101-8. doi: 10.1007/s10654-011-9645-7. Epub 2011 Dec 27.


Previously published studies on the risk of cancer among male priests have been based on cancer mortality with the exception of one case-control study. The aim of this study was to present estimates of cancer incidence among Nordic male priests. The study cohort for our analyses consisted of 6.5 million men aged 30-64 years old who had participated in any computerised population census in four Nordic countries in 1990 or earlier. Follow-up was done by drawing linkages with the national population and cancer registries. 13,491 priests were identified by their job title codes. We estimated the standardised incidence ratio (SIR) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CI) for the priests using the male population as a reference. Priests had a lower cancer incidence than the general population (overall SIR 0.85, 95% CI: 0.82-0.88). The majority of smoking- and alcohol-related cancers were associated with decreased SIR estimates. Increased risks were observed for skin melanoma (SIR 1.34, 95% CI: 1.11-1.62), acute myeloid leukemia (SIR 1.75, 95% CI: 1.20-2.47) and thyroid cancer (SIR 1.86, 95% CI: 1.22-2.73). This is the first cohort study regarding the incidence of cancer among priests. The lower incidence of smoking and alcohol-related cancers among Nordic male priests can be explained by their lower exposure to cigarettes and alcohol when compared to the general population. A greater risk of melanoma is typical of highly-educated people, but it is unclear why priests should have an increased risk of acute myeloid leukemia or thyroid cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cohort Studies
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Finland / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / classification
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Norway / epidemiology
  • Religion
  • Sweden / epidemiology