Can Stress Cause Cancer?
Time and again, we have heard that stress is the root cause of all diseases. But can stress cause cancer? Well, the evidence of this connection is not that strong. Some say it is the prolonged frustration, while others say it is the immune system. Studies conducted in the 19th century focused on the impact of psychosocial stress on health. They reported that people under severe psychosocial stress were more likely to develop cancer.
Stress can result from daily responsibilities, routine events, and more unusual circumstances, such as trauma or illness in self or a loved one. People suffer from distress when they find out that they can not manage or control how every day activities change their lives. Grieving is a significant factor that can reduce the quality of life, resulting in poor health outcomes.
What Does Stress Do To Our Bodies?
A. Weakening Of Immune System:
The immune system is vital for defending our bodies against various invading microbes and toxins. It plays a significant role in preventing infections and cancer. Prolonged stress weakens the immune system and some types of cancers develop and thrive when the immune system is weak.
B. Hormonal Imbalance:
Hormonal imbalance is another major consequence of prolonged stress. Chronic stress can alter the levels of certain hormones in the body, such as epinephrine and norepinephrine. These chemicals increase blood pressure, heart rate and blood glucose levels. This prepares a person to respond to potential threats with great strength and speed.
C. Other effects:
Studies have shown that people who experience intense and prolonged stress can experience problems in digestion, urination, fertility and immune response. People undergoing chronic stress are also more prone to viral infections such as the flu and the common cold. They frequently get headaches, trouble sleeping, depression, and anxiety.
Can Stress Cause Cancer?
Although stress can cause several physical health crises, the proof that it can lead to cancer is weak. Some studies have highlighted the link between various psychological factors and an increased risk of developing cancer, but such studies are limited in number.
An indirect link between psychological stress and cancer is possible. For example, people behave in a certain way when they experience extreme stress. They indulge in habits like smoking, overeating, or alcohol consumption, which increase a person’s risk for cancer.
How Can Stress Cause Cancer?
Here is a possible mechanism that explains the link between stress and cancer. Our bodies have a neuroendocrine system which consists of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis or HPA axis. When a person undergoes stress, the HPA axis and sympathetic nervous system get activated and decline the frontal part of the brain. Stress hormones produced during the activation of the HPA axis and the Sympathetic Nervous System can promote tumorigenesis (generation of tumour cells). Tumorigenesis leaves a way for cancer cells to develop through various mechanisms.
Chronic stress also changes your body’s immune function and inflammatory response. This is significant because a long-term inflammatory response and the decline of the body’s immune surveillance capabilities are involved in generating tumour cells.
What Are The Stress-Associated Risk Factors That Influence Cancer Development?
The Canadian Cancer Society reports that certain risk factors that may lead to cancer when a person is stressed for a long time. The 4 major risk factor of getting cancer during stress are:
- Imbalanced Diet
- Lack of physical activity
How Does Stress Affect Cancer Patients?
Now that we know the answer to the question ‘can stress cause cancer’, It is also equally important to explore what stress does to a person diagnosed with cancer. People diagnosed with cancer might feel that the physical and emotional aspects of the disease are stressful. They try to relieve their stress with risky behaviours such as smoking, drinking alcohol, etc. They become more physically inactive, resulting in a poorer quality of life after cancer treatment.
In contrast, people who try effective coping strategies to deal with stress, such as relaxation and stress management techniques, tend to have lower levels of depression, anxiety, and symptoms related to cancer and its management. Nevertheless, no evidence states that management of psychological stress improves the survival chances of cancer patients.
The evidence of stress influencing cancer outcomes is quite weak. However, few data suggest that patients can develop a sense of helplessness or hopelessness when stress becomes unbearable. One possibility is that when people feel hopeless, they might refrain from seeking treatment. Even if they are dangerously ill, they indulge in smoking, drug use and other risky behaviours to avoid seeking help. This poses a severe threat to their lifestyle, and they end up losing their lives prematurely.
What Can You Do To Relieve Stress?
Getting in touch with an emotional and social support group who will guide you to cope with stress. It can reduce the levels of depression, anxiety and other symptoms. Try relaxation techniques like meditation, counselling, talk therapy and stress management.