WORLD CANCER DAY 2023: Chronic stress has been shown to impact physical health adversely. Long-term stress chips away at the body over time, compromising immunity, heart health, the gastrointestinal system, and everything else in between. The condition also shares a complex, under-explored relationship with one of the most prevalent diseases in the world today – cancer.
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Whether stress is associated with the formation of cancerous tumours directly is unclear. Some studies have suggested that stress can weaken and alter the body’s functioning in ways that can lead to the proliferation of cancer.
When one is in a state of prolonged stress, the body activates the fight-or-flight response chronically. This is marked by increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and release of hormones such as epinephrine and cortisol.
A 2021 study published in Scientific Reports Journal stated that a large amount of these hormones surging through the body can induce expressive DNA damage contributing to cancer development. Stress hormones can also inhibit cell apoptosis, which is the process by which cells naturally die and get replaced. This inhibition of apoptosis allows cells with DNA damage to continue replicating, potentially leading to cancer development.
The state of extended excessive arousal experienced during chronic stress can wear down the body’s defences, making people more vulnerable to all ailments, including cancer.
According to National Cancer Institute, other indirect ways stress could be linked to cancer includes people developing certain unhealthy habits, such as smoking, alcohol consumption, overeating, or becoming less active. These behaviours are independently linked with increased risks of some cancers.
Moreover, stress has an adverse impact on those who already have cancer, too. Evidence from laboratory studies suggests that chronic stress may cause cancer to get worse and metastasize. Norepinephrine stimulates metastasis and angiogenesis, both of which lead to the growth of cancerous tumours, as well.
Several other studies have shown that there is no link between chronic stress and an increased risk of cancer. Due to a lack of a large body of conclusive research on the subject, the association remains unclear to date. What is clear, though, that reduction and better management of stress in everyday life is desirable in preventing multiple ailments, if not cancer.
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