Stress and Cancer: Is There a Link?

The relationship between stress and cancer has long been a subject of wonder. Various studies have been published attempting to explore the real connection between the two, yet further research is still needed to shed light on many aspects of the topic. 

The most popular claim involving the subject so far is that cancer substantially increases the risk of developing cancer, but even this is subject to doubts and criticisms due to a lack of sufficient evidence. 

Here, we’ve prepared a quick guide to help you answer the common questions involving stress and cancer. Learn what recent studies have discovered so far. 

What happens to our bodies when we’re stressed?

Generally, “stress” is the term used to describe the state of our bodies when under pressure. This usually happens when we find ourselves in a situation or event that threatens our sense of security or makes us feel as if we have little to no control of the whole situation. 

When we feel stressed, our bodies respond by activating our “fight or flight” response, which is  an automatic physiological reaction that animals and humans experience when confronted with dangerous situations. Think of it as if the body turns into “survival mode.” When our fight or flight has been activated, our bodies become more alert, and our senses turn sharper than usual.

To achieve this mode, our hypothalamus, the small region of the brain responsible for releasing hormones, interprets stress as an indicator that there’s danger or threat to our survival. Hence, it will direct the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol, the hormones responsible for keeping our bodies active and on high alert. Specifically, adrenaline will increase the person’s heart rate, boost blood pressure, and redirect blood towards the muscles to allow us to move faster and perform better. On the other hand, cortisol works by increasing the brain’s use of glucose to supply the body with more energy sources.

On average, the effects of adrenaline or cortisol may last for an hour. After our fight or flight response subsides, we may experience certain side effects, including nausea, anxiety, headache, restlessness, and even breathing problems.

Generally, stress is pretty common, and everyone experiences it every once in a while. However, when it happens frequently or consistently, chronic stress may eventually take a toll on the body.

Can stress cause cancer?

One of the most popular claims about stress is that it can directly cause or, at least, increase the risk of developing certain serious medical conditions, including cancer. The belief is anchored on the idea that increased stress hormone production substantially weakens the immune system, thereby allowing possible cancer development

However, while the claim may sound plausible, many scientists around the world are quick to clarify that such an idea still demands further research to be declared accurate and factual.

Various studies have already been conducted to explore this topic; however, the results vary significantly. In a 2016 study, researchers found no association between increased breast cancer risk and consistent stress among over 100,000 women in the United Kingdom. However, a different conclusion was found a year later by another set of researchers, who observed an elevated risk of prostate cancer among younger men who have reported over 30 years of workplace stress. 

Overall, the question of whether stress can cause or increase the risk of cancer remains unanswered to date. However, what is clear is that regular stress can still affect the body by promoting unhealthy habits that may weaken the immune system and increase cancer risk. Among these unhealthy habits include smoking, drinking, not sleeping, etc.

What are the ways to manage stress?

To date, although there is no sufficient data yet that will actually support the idea that stress causes cancer, it is still necessary for individuals to learn how to manage their stress properly. As discussed earlier, regular and consistent stress still affects the body and may weaken our bodies’ ability to fight off germs and infections.

Among the proper ways to effectively manage stress include:

  • Exercise regularly.

Working out isn’t just good for your physical health; it’s also important for your mental wellbeing. When we put our bodies at work, our brain responds to the physical challenges by releasing endorphins, considered the body’s “feel-good” hormones.

  • Get enough sleep.

Lack of sleep puts your mood into chaos. You’re likely to feel easily irritated and worried when you don’t have enough sleep. Hence, maintaining sufficient and quality sleeping time will help reduce your chances of getting stressed easily.

  • Eat healthy foods.

Eating healthy foods can help tame stress. Whole grains, avocados, and fish are known for their stress-relieving effects. Even a few bites of dark chocolate every once in a while can help boost your mood. Overall, a healthy diet will also help promote a healthy mind and body, which can be your greatest shield against stress.

The Bottom Line

Stress is a natural and widespread occurrence among people. Yet, frequent mental or emotional pressure isn’t something that should be treated as normal. While data remains lacking in proving a connection between cancer and stress, people must still learn and practice managing their emotions to effectively avoid any possible health problem that may arise due to constant psychological strain.

If you know someone who has cancer and is exhibiting frequent mood swings or is always restless and feeling tense, it’s best to take him to a doctor for a quick checkup. People diagnosed with serious medical conditions, such as cancer, may experience different mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety.

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Here at New Hope Unlimited, we offer a comprehensive type of treatment to cancer patients that will focus not just on their physical wellbeing but will also improve their mental and spiritual health. Call us today to know your options.

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