Does Stress feed cancer? Can we affect our ability to fight cancer by how we manage stress?
We can’t avoid stress; its a natural part of life. But can’t some stress be good? The right amounts of it can motivate us to be competitive and innovative. Stress can affect us both emotionally and physically. But too much stress can also affect our immune systems and ultimately our health in negative ways. It can put us at risk for heart disease and cancer, and make us more susceptible to illness. We all know that stress may have a negative impact on our health. But you also know you’re never going to be completely rid of stress. It’s unrealistic to do away with all of life’s pressures – but the key is in how you handle them on a daily basis.
We have long understood that our mind and body are interconnected. We know that our emotions and stress levels can affect our physical health. The science behind what we’ve innately understood is beginning to catch up.
Studies About Stress and Cancer
This research team studied a mouse cancer model (yes – that’s correct). After receiving a transplant of ovarian cancer cells, the mice were restrained in order to cause a physically induced stress. The researchers then noticed that their tumors grew more rapidly so they gave the mice the drug propranolol, which blocked adrenaline, and in turn, slowed the growth of the tumors.
In another article published in the International Journal of Cancer this year, higher levels of norepinephrine and adrenaline were linked to increased rates of breast cancer spreading and growth.
Breast tissue contains a very dense supply of sympathetic nerves and is heavily exposed to adrenaline during times of stress. It was first discovered by Canadian scientists that breast cancer cells do express receptors for norepinephrine which is released when one is stressed. When these scientists carried out a series of laboratory experiments, they found that norepinephrine significantly increased the growth of breast cancer cells and increased their ability to spread to other parts of the body.
Reducing Stress Improves Health
We can’t control our genetics. Nor will stress ever go away entirely. But we can change how we respond to stress, since its not necessarily the stress itself, as much as the way people handle stress that may be linked to disease.
This was demonstrated in a seminal groundbreaking study by Dr. Speigel, a psychiatrist from Stanford who studied women with metastatic breast cancer. He was determined to prove that there was not a relationship between length of survival after a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis and the emotional trauma or stress. To his surprise, he found that the women who participated in the support group lived on average twice as long as the women who didn’t participate. The more regularly a women attended the group, the longer she lived. These women who had learned to confront their fears, express their inner feelings and experience relationships more authentically, were less likely to have depression, anxiety and even physical pain.
We are now beginning to understand that strong relationships, support and managing our stress have a real positive impact on our entire being. We cannot separate out our biology from our emotion and spiritual self. We are comprised of all of these facets, and each affect the other. If we make a change in one area, we are affecting the whole self.
So science is beginning to catch up with what we have innately understood for a time. The bigger question is how do we manage our stress and optimize our ability to optimize our bodies ability to resist disease?
Awareness is the first step to improving stress levels. Tune in to your stress levels and notice patterns. Some stress is ok; but if you are chronically stressed out, make some changes. Even a little change can make a big difference.
Incorporate mindfulness into your everyday life. Meditation does not have to take but a few minutes. Find a class, download an app or discover yoga. Meditate in the grocery line or at the red light. Develop your spiritual muscle. Live in the present moment. Get connected with your community and reach out to others. Find a hobby. Exercise regularly and get enough sleep. Pick one thing to focus on at a time. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. Don’t forget to laugh!
Cancer can be very stressful but the opportunities for positive growth and transformation through a cancer experience are abundant if we choose to look for them. Don’t let being stressed stress you out even more. Be empowered to make choices that improve your stress level and help your body to resist cancer and other illnesses. Don’t let the cancer take control. Who knows – you might even be happier and live a less stressful and more meaningful life – in spite of cancer.