Last Update: February 04, 2023, 07:00 IST
World Cancer Day 2023: Chronic stress has been shown to have adverse effects on physical health. Chronic stress wears away at the body over time, compromising immunity, heart health, the gastrointestinal system, and everything else. The condition also shares a complex, less-explored relationship with cancer – one of the most prevalent diseases in the world today.
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Whether stress is directly linked to the formation of cancerous tumors is unclear. Some studies have suggested that stress may debilitate and alter the functioning of the body in a way that may lead to the spread of cancer.
When someone is in a state of stress for a long time, the body chronically activates the fight-or-flight response. It is marked by an increase in heart rate, rapid breathing, and the release of hormones such as epinephrine and cortisol.
A 2021 study published in the journal Scientific Reports states that a high amount of these hormones moving through the body can induce expressive DNA damage that contributes to cancer development. Stress hormones can also inhibit cell apoptosis, which is the process by which cells naturally die and are replaced. This inhibition of apoptosis allows cells with DNA damage to continue replicating, potentially leading to the development of cancer.
The state of extreme arousal experienced during chronic stress can lower the body’s defenses, making people more vulnerable to a whole host of diseases, including cancer.
According to the National Cancer Institute, stress may be linked to cancer in other indirect ways, including developing certain unhealthy habits, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, overeating or being less active. These behaviors are independently associated with increased risks of some cancers.
Apart from this, stress also has an adverse effect on people who already have cancer. Evidence from laboratory studies suggests that chronic stress can cause cancer to worsen and metastasize. Norepinephrine stimulates metastasis and angiogenesis, both of which also lead to cancerous tumor growth.
Several other studies have shown no link between chronic stress and an increased risk of cancer. Due to the lack of a large body of conclusive research on the topic, the association remains unclear to date. However, it is clear that reduction and better management of stress in everyday life is desirable to prevent many diseases, if not cancer.
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