Does stress cause cancer?


Question from MissyTX: I keep reading that stress causes cancer. Is that true?
Answers - Mitch Golant There is no data that indicates stress causes cancer. The way we are thinking about the relationship between stress and any function is the following. The way to think about this is that cancer cells exist in our bodies all the time. Our immune system is fighting off those cancer cells time and time again. What we are looking at is if you can enhance the power of the immune system by doing things that make you happy. We talk about the three most significant stressors, namely, unwanted aloneness, loss of control, and loss of hope. If you can address those three stressors, you can enhance the power of the immune system, which may have an effect on how it's able to fight those cancer cells.
Marisa Weiss, M.D. There is no question that stress feels terrible and really takes away your energy and quality of life. The pain and stress of a divorce, of the loss of a child, of fights with adolescent children, can sometimes be unbearable. Under those circumstances, it can be very hard to function in any way. But as Dr. Golant said, there is no direct link between a person who has these difficult challenges in their life and a subsequent higher risk of getting cancer.
Mitch Golant We should take a moment and make a distinction between stress and your reaction to stress. It is a really important distinction. Not everybody reacts to the same situation the same way. It's not so much the stress itself but your interpretation or attachment of stress to yourself. If you can do things to soften that relationship...for example, finding language that you can use when you are feeling upset, it can help reduce the stress. First, you have to note that you are reacting. "I am upset at my son for coming home late after curfew and I am worried." Then you can say to yourself, "But he has been fine all of these times before. He is trustworthy," as a way of softening the impact of that fear.

That is one of the functions of relaxation or medication - to help reduce our reactions to stresses. I love to use the example of a woman getting on the freeway and someone cuts her off. Her usual response would be honking and tailgating, and she could feel her stress level increase. Then she asked herself, "Why am I doing this? Maybe this guy had a bad day at work." Then she became less anxious and upset. Rather than thinking about a situation as stressful, we should think about how we are reacting to that stress.

On Wednesday, September 19, 2001, our Ask-the-Expert Online Conference was called Stress and Your Immune System. Mitch Golant, Ph.D. and Marisa Weiss, M.D. answered your questions on how stress affects your treatment, and what you can do to boost your immune system.

The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.

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