Why Stress Can Hurt Your Battle Against Cancer - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on February 07, 2013

Why Stress Can Hurt Your Battle Against Cancer 

Being told you have cancer is just about the worst news you can possibly get; it’s a surefire way to raise your stress levels, as a million questions and concerns race through your head. 

And a new study suggests the rush of stress may be just about the worst thing for you. Researchers at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center recently found that stress hormones promote the growth of prostate cancer cells - even when drug treatments are introduced.  

The cells in your body die during a natural process called apoptosis. When you’re under prolonged periods of stress – like, say, when you’re fighting cancer – your adrenaline kicks in, and in this case, that’s bad. Because the adrenaline deactivates the protein that triggers apoptosis, meaning that the cells don’t die. As a result, cancerous cells only continue to grow. 

Researchers observed this relationship during their study of mice with prostate cancer cells: 

  • For mice implanted with human prostate cancer cells living in a stress-free environment, drug treatments destroyed cancer cells and delayed tumor growth. However, when under prolonged stress, the drug did not kill cancer cells or prevent tumor growth.
  • For mice genetically modified to develop prostate cancer, stress increased the size of prostate tumors. When given cancer treatments, the size of the tumor decreased. However, when subjected to constant stress, the mice no longer responded well to the effects of the drug.  

In these examples, stress is found to not only increase the size of prostate tumors, but also prevent drugs from effectively treating cancer. 

What it means is that cancer patients need to have a strategy for alleviating stress. Being around friends and loved ones who can provide a nurturing sense of community can go a long way towards easing a patient’s anxiousness. 

Sometimes medicinal intervention is needed. Beta-blockers, which are drugs often used to treat cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure and arrhythmia, prevent adrenaline from interfering with the cell life cycle. Patients with prostate cancer who experience high stress levels can benefit from beta-blockers, as they help improve the efficacy of cancer treatments. Be sure to talk to your doctor about this if you’re concerned. 

Additionally, lifestyle changes can also be made to help relieve stress. Relaxation therapies such as yoga, listening to music, and asking for help with daily chores are all ways in which you can manage and alleviate stress levels. 

For more information about Crozer-Keystone Health System Cancer Services, visit http://ckcancer.crozerkeystone.org. You can also call 1-866-695-HOPE (4673) or fill and and submit our online appointment request form to request an appointment with a physician who cares for cancer patients.

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