Both stress and cancer have high visibility in our society. Articles and program specials on stress can be seen in the grocery store magazine aisles. Workout classes tout promises to lower stress levels. Cancer awareness campaigns frequently have 5k runs, numerous fundraising drives for cancer research pop up throughout the year, and new developments in research are usually publicized.
However, we don’t always hear about the research in which cancer and stress are being linked together.
What Causes Stress?
Stress is a normal response to experiences that make you feel threatened or upset, and is your body’s natural way of protecting you. Normally, when we feel stressed, when experience feelings of flight, fight, or freeze. These feelings are known as a stress response. Stress also helps you meet challenges, and helps you persevere under demanding circumstances by kicking your adrenal system into work mode. However, if you experience trauma or long periods of high stress, your body’s stress response can take over and wreak havoc on your body’s homeostasis and everyday functioning.
How Can Stress Cause Cancer?
Currently, there is no evidence that proves that stress can directly cause cancer. However, there are several studies in which high levels of stress correlate with cancer, and studies are growing that link the development of cancer with high levels of stress. Some researchers believe that since high levels of prolonged stress can negatively impact a person’s immune system, stress may reduce the body’s ability to fight off free radicals and other environmental factors linked to stress.
Some believe that stress and cancer are linked together because when we are stressed, we typically make poor health choices. When stressed, people are more inclined to skip exercise, eat poorly, and smoke and drink more. All of these poor behaviors, especially poor diet and smoking, are linked to cancer. So stress may indirectly cause cancer.
How Does Cancer Develop?
Cancer develops when cells grow and divide at an uncontrollable rate. These cancer cells are invasive and typically hinder the functioning of other normal cells as they spread. Because there are several different types of cancer, determining how cancer as a whole develops is nearly impossible. Genetic and environmental factors, however, are currently the predominate factors looked at when determining how a cancer develops initially.
I’m Stressed. Will I Develop Cancer?
Stress is a natural part of our every day lives. However, prolonged exposure to high levels of stress will impact your mental, emotional, and physical well-being – but it doesn’t mean you will develop cancer. Some cancers develop more rapidly due to environmental factors, such as radiation, and others are linked solely to genetics. If you are concerned that you have, or may be susceptible to cancer, consult with a physician and consider completing gene testing.
There are several types of gene testing available, so those interested should consult with their physician. For those with a history of cancer in their family, gene testing which focuses on locating specific genes related to the development of cancer may be the best option. These types of gene tests determine whether or not specific genes, such as the BRAF or KRAS, are present. If such cells are found, individuals can take action to better monitor their bodies to improve the likelihood of developed cancer being discovered in early stages. Most cancers in the early stage are easier to treat and have a high survivability rate.
How Can Lowering Stress Affect Cancer?
Although no evidence exits that stress directly causes cancer, there are studies that prove that lowering stress levels can improve the quality of life and increase the time of recovery from treatment in those suffering from cancer. Overall, involving yourself in practices that lower stress levels will improve your overall health and well-being. A few activities that can help lower stress include adequate exercise, a balanced diet, lower intake levels of caffeine and alcohol, and meditation.