Is there a link between stress and cancer?

Many factors contribute to the onset and progression of cancer such as exposure to carcinogenic agents, behavioral risk factors, compromised immune functioning or stress.  The stress most strongly associated with increased breast cancer occurrence is the stress caused by major life events such death of a husband, divorce/separation, personal illness or injury, death of a close relative or friend, and loss of a job.   Stress also increases the risk of re-occurrence and poorer outcome.

If stress can increase cancer risk then learning stress management techniques may reduce the risk and improve clinical outcome. In a superb eleven year long follow-up study, Professor Barbara Anderson of Ohio University showed that patients with breast cancer who had participated in a 14 week stress management program had significantly higher survival rates and lower re-occurrence rates as compared to the control group.

The findings that stress increases cancer risk  and stress management improves survival suggests that stress management should be part of cancer treatment and prevention.  For useful stress management techniques that patients can immediately do for themselves, see Part III-Self-care in the book,  Fighting Cancer.

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