Stress, Aggressive Breast Cancer Tumors Linked

The idea that stress in all its forms- as well as the resultant lifestyle stressors that result- can manifest in dangerous or even deadly ways is not a new one, albeit perhaps one associated more with alternative-medicine ways of thinking.

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago, however, extrapolated the concept to a study, measuring whether what’s known as “psychosocial stress” (such as fear, anxiety and loneliness) – could impact bodily functions regulated by the autonomic nervous system. The study included nearly 1,000 women, all of whom had a recent diagnosis of breast cancer- within the preceding three months- and surveyed them to determine their level of stress.

Somewhat scarily, participants with high stress levels were more likely to be afflicted with more aggressive breast cancer. The respondents who suffered from stress levels considered high, to be precise, were nearly 40% more likely to present with cancers that were less treatable with drugs like Tamoxifen, because the cancers were considered estrogen receptor-negative. Controlling for factors including the age of the participant as well as the stage the cancer was in when she found subjects still 22% more likely to have the more aggressive cancers.

In a statement study lead researcher Garth Rauscher said that it was not clear why the two may be linked:

“It’s not clear what’s driving this association… It may be that the level of stress in these patients’ lives influenced tumor aggressiveness. It may be that being diagnosed with a more aggressive tumor, with a more worrisome diagnosis and more stressful treatments, influenced reports of stress. It may be that both of these are playing a role in the association. We don’t know the answer to that question.”

Another finding of the study was that participants who were black or hispanic tended to report higher stress levels than white participants.