Chronic stress can cause a wide variety of health conditions, but the connection between stress and potentially deadly cancers is a little complicated. Every person’s cancer risk is different, as a complex mix of genetics, environmental factors, lifestyle factors and, yes, even elevated stress, can all play a part. Read on to find out about how stress impacts the body, potentially leading to the onset of cancer.
The Cancer Connection
Researchers have recognized for some years that stress may play a role in determining people’s cancer risks. It should come as no surprise that many of the patients seeking services at poseida.com experience stress, given that both the diagnosis of cancer and its treatment can be anxiety-inducing in themselves. But does the stress cause cancer? That question is a little more difficult to answer.
Types of Stress
It’s important to distinguish between acute stress and chronic stress. Acute stress occurs for short periods on a situational basis, such as before giving a big speech or while sitting in traffic. Since it’s usually triggered by a particular event, it typically passes once the event does.
Short-term stress is a natural and common response to unpleasant events in life. Experts do not believe that it contributes to cancer risk.
Chronic stress, on the other hand, is much more damaging to people’s health. This type of stress may still arise in response to a particular situation, or it can have no easily discernible cause. Chronic stress lasts for weeks, months, or longer, leaving people feeling like there is no end in sight and increasing their risks of developing many diseases.
Issues That Can Cause Chronic Stress
Like acute stress, chronic stress may be brought on by a variety of triggers. However, these triggers typically last for weeks, months, or years. Examples of triggers for chronic stress include living in an abusive home, working at an extremely unpleasant job, constant financial issues, and living with a chronic illness.
Elevated Cancer Risk
Chronic stress weakens people’s immune systems. This leaves them more prone to diseases, including cancer. While the cancer is not, in this case, caused by stress, stress can certainly play a role in creating a hospitable environment for cancer cells once they begin to form.
Reduced Ability to Fight Off Tumor Formation
The presence of stress hormones in the body can also inhibit anoikis, a natural process that destroys disease cells to stop them from spreading. It increases the production of growth factors, as well. Both of these side effects can help to speed the development of tumors.
Chronic stress also causes increased inflammation. Some experts believe that this could, in itself, contribute to elevated cancer risk.
Prompting Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms
Both long-term and acute stress can prompt people to start using unhealthy coping mechanisms like drinking excessively, overeating, or smoking cigarettes. All of these lifestyle choices increase the risk of developing cancer. According to this theory, it is not the stress hormones or their impact on the body that lead to elevated risk but the secondary impacts of stress on people’s lifestyles.
Effects of Stress on Current Cancer Patients
While there is limited evidence to explain the connection between chronic stress and elevated cancer risk, there’s plenty of evidence that it worsens existing cancers. Stress can speed metastasis, the process by which cancer spreads from its initial location throughout a patient’s body. Animal studies performed on mice have proven that metastasis occurs quicker when stress hormones increase in the body, suggesting there is likely a connection in humans, as well.
Tips for Reducing Stress
While acute stress usually fades away after the triggering situation has passed, chronic stress can be more difficult to manage. The key for people who cannot simply leave the stressful situation is to develop healthy coping mechanisms that do not elevate cancer risk, as do smoking, drinking, and taking drugs.
Setting priorities can help to prevent people from becoming burned out. Instead, they can determine what needs to be done immediately and what tasks can be put off until later, focusing on only those stressful tasks that are most essential. People will have a little more time to unwind as a result, which can have a dramatic positive impact on their stress levels.
Burn Off Steam
Regular exercise is a great way to deal with stress. Use some of the time freed up by setting priorities to head out for a bike ride, go for a run, or find other ways to get a good cardiovascular workout. Not only will doing so decrease stress, but it will also improve overall health. That can act as a protective factor against cancer.
Try Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing and yoga can all be great stress relievers. Those techniques take time to learn, though, so don’t get discouraged if a huge breakthrough doesn’t come immediately. Those dealing with stress due to financial problems don’t have to spend a small fortune to learn these common relaxation techniques, as there are plenty of learning resources available for free online.
Get Enough Sleep
Prioritize sleep, even if it means putting off getting important tasks done. All adults need at least seven or eight hours of sleep a night to function optimally, so find a way to fit sufficient sleep time in. Since stress and anxiety can cause insomnia, it may be worth speaking with a mental health professional to discuss options.
The Bottom Line
While most doctors and researchers believe there is a connection between elevated chronic stress levels and cancer risk, there still isn’t enough conclusive empirical evidence to say definitively that there is a direct connection. Given how many negative health outcomes can be avoided by reducing stress and how much lower levels of anxiety can improve quality of living, there’s no reason not to work on developing healthier coping mechanisms, though. Cancer patients and those who are concerned that they may be at elevated risk of eventually developing cancer should take advantage of stress reduction techniques in their daily lives.