Education, Health

Stress’ And Breast Cancer- The Curious Relation

Breast cancer is caused by carcinogens in the body. Toxins and carcinogens from our air, water, food, etc. intake gathers in our body next to the breast cells and mutates the DNA forming in the new breast cell, changing it into a breast cancer cell. 

Apart from this, the influence of psychological and social factors on the development and progression of cancer has been a hypothesis since ancient times.

In fact, clinical studies over the past 30 years have provided some evidence for links between chronic stress, depression, social isolation to cancer progression. The link between cancer initiation and stress is not completely evident but cannot be excluded.

Qualitative analysis of articles on various websites has also revealed a possible association between stress and cancer, especially regarding stressful life events.

A study conducted by a team from the University of Basel and the University Hospital of Basel in Switzerland has uncovered evidence to suggest that stress can fuel the spread of breast cancer tumors, perhaps also supporting their diversification. The study found that stress hormones support breast cancer metastasis. The scientists also state that the stress hormone derivatives present in certain anti-inflammatory treatments could actually “disarm” chemotherapy agents. 

The team worked with a mouse model of breast cancer. They started by studying how different the original tumors were from metastatic tumors by assessing specific gene activity. The researchers note that in metastatic tumors, a type of receptor called “glucocorticoid receptors” was very active. These receptors bind to stress hormones, including cortisol. Also, the team found that mice with metastases had higher levels of cortisol and another stress hormone, corticosterone, than rodents in which cancer had not yet spread. The investigators also observed that when these stress hormones are highly present, they activate glucocorticoid receptors. This, they explain, triggers cancer cells’ spread and supports their diversification.

Stress, depression, and anxiety are normal responses to the diagnosis of any type of cancer. Research shows that there is a high prevalence of depression and anxiety disorders in patients battling breast cancer, with rates of 38.2 percent and 32.2 percent respectively. Such mental health issues are even known to affect women who have survived breast cancer, so it’s important to acknowledge these feelings and seek help. You don’t have to battle such feelings on your own.  

But it is also easy for new age ‘positive thinking’ motivational gurus who are in good health to preach to others with chronic health conditions about the power of ‘positive thinking and how stress and depression are just ‘states of mind’. While positive thinking is important and can help us cope with grief and trauma, it’s simply not helpful to tell someone who is stressed or depressed to be positive – in fact, it’s downright insensitive and shows a complete lack of understanding or empathy. In the case of someone battling cancer, such advice is even worse. The best way is to address the facts, talk to experts and have conversations in peer support groups. This helps to create the awareness that you are not fighting alone and a whole community is with you, with a lot of positive information and resources that you may not be knowing on your own. 

When fighting breast cancer, support groups like MBCISS can be immensely beneficial to make things less scary, and less stressful and to bring life back to normal.

In addition to finding support from loved ones and support groups, it is also advisable to seek help from behavioral therapists or counselors. They can help you with relaxation techniques and meditative practices that will lower stress levels and also make you more resilient to stress. If your stress is already chronic or you suffer from depression or anxiety, you can also speak to a psychiatrist and take prescription medications. It can help see you through a particularly rough patch, after which you can use non-medicated therapies. In whatever difficult situation you are in, always try to remember one thing, you are not fighting alone and you should not.

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