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No Link Between Stress, Breast Cancer Risk

A study found no link between breast cancer risk and stress or difficult life events, including the loss of parents during childhood.
Jul 30, 2016.This article is archived
We archive older articles so you can still read about past studies that led to today's standard of care.
Many women feel that stress and anxiety caused them to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Because there has been no clear proof of a link between stress and a higher risk of breast cancer, researchers in the United Kingdom conducted a large prospective study on the issue.
The results show no link between breast cancer risk and stress or difficult life events, including the loss of parents during childhood.
A prospective study follows a group of similar people who are different in terms of the factors being studied to see how the factors affect the rates of a certain outcome. A prospective study is considered stronger than a retrospective study. A retrospective study analyzes information that was collected before the study was designed.
In the study, the researchers looked at the records of 106,612 women 16 or older in the United Kingdom who were part of the Breakthrough Generations Study, a study looking at the causes of breast cancer. The women joined the study between 2003 and 2012. None of the women had been diagnosed with breast cancer when they joined the study.
The women filled out a questionnaire about breast cancer risk factors and other items and also donated a blood sample at the start of the study. The women then updated the information in the questionnaire every 2.5 to 3 years.
The questionnaire also asked about stress, including:
  • whether the women had felt stressed over the past 5 years and how often
  • if they had experienced the death of a long-term partner, child, close friend, parent, or other close relative
  • if they had gone through a divorce or separation
  • if they had had a serious illness or injury
  • if they had lost a job
  • any other life event they found very stressful
The researchers then looked to see how many women were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer or DCIS during the approximately 10 years of follow-up.
During follow-up:
  • 1,783 women were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer
  • 273 women were diagnosed with DCIS
The data were adjusted for known breast cancer risk factors, including:
  • age at first period
  • age at first live birth
  • time spent breastfeeding
  • body mass index at age 20
  • body mass index after menopause
  • use of combination hormone replacement therapy
  • history of benign breast disease
  • cigarette smoking
  • drinking alcohol
  • lack of exercise
  • family history of breast cancer
About 34% of the women in the study reported frequent or continuous stress, and 74% said they had experienced at least one very difficult life event in the previous 5 years. Women who said they had frequent or continuous stress were more likely to have had a very difficult life event.
The researchers found that women who reported frequent or continuous stress had about the same risk of breast cancer as women who reported occasional or no stress. Breast cancer risk also wasn’t linked to experiencing a very difficult life event during the previous 5 years.
This study found no link between breast cancer risk and stress, which is a good thing. Still, anything you can do to reduce your stress and enhance your self-confidence, satisfaction, and happiness can have a huge effect on your quality of life. So-called “mindful measures,” such as yoga, meditation, visualization, journaling, and prayer, may be valuable additions to your daily or weekly routine. Exercise also can help ease stress as well as boost your energy and self-esteem.
For more information on mindfulness techniques, visit the Complementary & Holistic Medicine pages. For more information on how to start being more active, visit the Exercise pages.

— Last updated on February 22, 2022, 10:02 PM

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