Could Chronic Stress Be Related To Cancer?

That question would make anyone become stressed.

All kidding aside, this is a serious concern that we should consider and investigate. Stress permeates our lives and a recent report held that today’s millennial generation is more stressed than any other. Could chronic stress be related to cancer? Some research says yes, and others no.

We can look at this question from two angles: whether it does, and how it does.

Whether Chronic Stress Is Related To Cancer

Stress much?

We all experience stress in our daily lives, but according to the National Cancer Institute  “… people who experience high levels of psychological stress, or who experience it repeatedly over a long period of time may develop health problems (mental and/or physical).”

Our immune system is predisposed to ward off the development of cancer cells and their growth, but chronic stress and stress response hormones like epinephrine and cortisol can disrupt our immune system from doing its job effectively.  Cancer cells are left to multiply and grow larger if chronic stress is present.

Researchers have used mice to examine the effect of stress vs normal mice activities. They learned that cancer grew faster in those mice who were left alone and became stressed.

One small study conducted with cancer patients found that stress can worsen the disease. Those patients who were more highly stressed about their cancer had a larger volume of cancer cells in their blood.

How Chronic Stress Is Related To Cancer

Research has shown that long term chronic stress can lead to problems with digestion, fertility, the urinary tract, and a weakened immune system. In addition we become more susceptible to flu, headaches, viral infections, poor sleep, and depression. Stress affects us in multiple ways, and none of them are productive.

How stressed are Americans? According to the CDC, in its most recent study, the use of anti-depressant meds for anxiety and depression has increased in the U.S. Nearly 12.7% of Americans age 12 and older take them, and ¼ of those have taken them for over 10 years.

The specific links to chronic stress and cancer may be weak and questionable, but consider this.  Stress can motivate someone to take up behaviors that puts them them at a higher risk for developing cancer like smoking, overeating which leads to obesity, drinking alcohol excessively, and a diet high in sugar and fats.

These factors make it tough to ignore and millennials should especially take note.

Coping Strategies

With stress a part of everyone’s lives whether it is short term or chronic, we would be wise to look at ways to manage our stress.

Image of hammer smashing the word stress

  • Take up yoga and/or meditation
  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule
  • Regular exercise is a must, even if it’s just walking three times a week for 30 minutes
  • Cut down on “screen” time (you know who you are)
  • Seek professional help

Don’t dismiss stress as unimportant. If you are a cancer patient, reducing your stress level can be impactful to your long term prognosis.

As always, if you have any further questions, call Southwest Diagnostic Center for Molecular Imaging or request an appointment online. 

Category: Cancer
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