Stress is a natural byproduct of the hectic pace of modern life. Unavoidable symptoms of the human condition include a racing heart, a tight stomach, and a general feeling of unease. The body’s long-term effects of chronic stress include everything from inflammation to heart disease. Stress may have a role in cancer in some circumstances. However, how intertwined are these two disorders?
Shelley Tworoger, an associate professor of population science at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, stated that research suggests that stress may impact cancer development. Earlier this month, Tworoger gave a session at the annual conference of the American Association for Cancer Research in Atlanta regarding these connections.
According to mounting data, stress has been linked to an increased risk of cancer development and worsening outcomes in patients with specific forms of cancer. Even if chronic stress may cause cancer, “there’s more uncertainty” about that.
National Cancer Institute data shows that the link between stress and cancer is weak. Despite this, “there are many physiologic grounds to suspect that an association may exist,” Tworoger said. According to current research, persistent stress increases one’s chance of developing cancer.
Anxiety and physical health are intertwined.
Acute stress is quite natural and has a purpose in allowing us to respond to difficult situations. The body’s stress reaction, for example, may make your pulse beat, enhance your vision, and help you live if a “lion is hurting you or you’re almost in a car accident.”
The sympathetic nerve system, which activates the fight-or-flight response, and the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis, which releases a critical stress hormone called cortisol, are activated during a stressful circumstance.
These axes “switch on, assist you in getting through whatever the scenario was, and then, generally when the tension abates, they turn back off again,” said Tworoger.”In a way, your body wasn’t built for,” T explains; persistent stress and discomfort (such as acute anxiety, grief, or pain) repeatedly activate these pathways and produce stress hormones.”
Chronic activation of both of these pathways has been demonstrated to alter metabolism, elevate hormone levels, and shorten telomeres, the caps at the ends of DNA that protect it from deterioration. All of these alterations might impact cancer’s growth and progression.
A senior lecturer in immunopharmacology at the University of Brighton in the United Kingdom who also spoke at the discussion, Melanie Flint, noted that long-term production of stress hormones could cause DNA damage and impact DNA repair.
Chronic stress also reduces the body’s ability to fight infection. Cancer cells can enter the body through a compromised immune system. The immune system is the body’s cleaning crew that eliminates and mops up cells with genetic or metabolic abnormalities.
According to a growing body of research, cancer risk and progression can be affected by chronic stress through immunological dysregulation. In reality, most research links stress to cancer survival rather than cancer risk.
Stress is linked to an increased risk of cancer
Due to the subjective nature of stress, it is difficult to research to prove that stress causes cancer. How one deals with and responds to stressful situations can have a profound effect on one’s physical health, according to Toworoger.
When it comes to stress in the workplace, “some individuals have a negative reaction, and some people adore being stressed out in their employment,” Tworoger added. “They thrive on it,” in fact. As a result, the body’s response is influenced by this impression.
In numerous human studies, stress and cancer are linked based on correlations rather than causation. According to previous research, a variety of malignancies have been linked to chronic stress, including breast and gastrointestinal cancers.
Research by Tworoger and her team has yet to be peer-reviewed, but they found a link between social isolation and ovarian cancer risk. When it comes to ovarian cancer, socially isolated women have an approximately 1.5-fold greater risk. According to the researchers, people with greater signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) had a higher chance of acquiring ovarian cancer.
An investigation on the link between job stress and cancer risk will be published in an upcoming issue of the International Journal of Cancer. Stress at work was linked to an increased risk of colon, lung, and esophageal cancer but not to the risk of cancers of the prostate, breast, or ovary.
Several additional investigations have likewise shown no correlation between the two conditions. To illustrate this point, Tworoger and her team conducted research in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine in 2017 that found no link between occupational stress and ovarian cancer. According to an article in the European Journal of Cancer, the relationship between stress and cancer has been labeled a “myth.”
Some experts believe that harmful habits associated with stress, rather than stress itself, are to blame for cancer. According to this study, “the general agreement seems to be that chronic stress does not cause cancer per se, but it might indirectly raise cancer risk” through stress-related activities such as smoking or excessive drinking.