©American Heart Association
Like anything in life, there is the good and the bad type of stress. While positive stress can motivate you to do better at your job, adapt to a new environment, deliver a killer speech, or improve your athletic performance, negative psychological stress causes you pain and distress in life. It could be caused by the death of a loved one, illness, abuse, etc.
When you feel threatened and uneasy, your body activates the fight-or-flight response which prepares it for danger, but when you are chronically stressed, your body remains in the fight-or-flight mode constantly and releases more stress hormones including adrenaline and cortisol.
This is how stress takes a toll on your health, leading to mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and physical problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and heart attack. But can psychological stress and emotional pain cause cancer? Maybe…
Several scientific studies were dedicated to investigating the relationship between stress and cancer development, but do they have the evidence that we all want. Find out for yourself!
#1 – Does psychological stress really cause cancer?
While there is no scientific proof indicating that psychological stress can be a direct cause of cancer, intense chronic stress may still contribute to cancer risk, among other physical health problems like heart disease, weakened immune system, and stroke.
Several studies have deemed cancer as a “consequence” of stressful events rather than a “cause” of its symptoms and diagnosis by itself, according to a medical research paper published at the US National Library of Medicine.
It is evident that stress changes your body’s physiology. For example, a high level of stress hormones can affect blood pressure or lead to a heart attack. But it is how you deal with psychological distress in terms of eating habits and lifestyle that may result in the development of cancers.
Among the habits that you may pick up when stressed and which can trigger cancer include heavy smoking, drinking, eating unhealthy foods, overeating, and physical inactivity which may lead to obesity and increase the risk of cancer.
#2 – Is there an exception?
As mentioned above, psychological stress might not be an immediate cause of cancer, but there are bad habits and factors that may result from it and cause cancer. Yet, a number of epidemiological studies suggest that there is a relationship between emotional stress and breast cancer in particular.
Meanwhile, other scientific studies opposed this claim, suggesting that stress hormones have no role in the development of breast cancer or other types of cancer.
There is no strong evidence yet of whether overwhelming stress and anxiety experienced by women could directly result in cancerous tumor growth.
#3 – Does stress worsen cancer?
Although stress is not proved to be a direct cause of cancer, it can in fact worsen cancer type in people who already have them.
In some cancer treatments around the world, patients are screened for distress, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Cancer patients also participate in stress management sessions and receive emotional support as part of their treatment to decrease levels of fear and anxiety caused by the disease, and helps cope with depression.
As for people suffering from DNA damage caused by severe stress, may risk developing cancer if treatment is delayed. In this case, more stress may even worsen DNA damage as well as cancer.
#4 – What to do to cope with stress
If you’re battling with chronic stress, it is necessary to steer away from unhealthy lifestyle habits like eating junk foods, drinking too much alcohol, smoking, taking drugs, living a sedentary lifestyle, sleeping less at night, etc. These habits may cost you your health and life.
Instead, meditate, exercise regularly, play sports to relieve stress, and see a psychologist or counselor if you have suicidal thoughts.
If you have gone through a traumatic event, do not hesitate to seek professional help as it can help you a great deal with overcoming post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Stress is the culprit behind poor physical and mental health. However, when it comes to cancer in particular, it remains to be seen, with stronger scientific studies, whether it can be the primary agent and immediate cause of the disease in people.