Does Stress Cause Cancer?

Stressful events can alter the levels of hormones in the body and affect the immune system. This may lead you to believe that stress can cause cancer. But how scientifically accurate is this belief? In this post, we will examine the evidence to determine if there is, in fact, a link between cancer and stress.

The Scientific Evidence: Is there a Link Between Cancer and Stress?

The question of the link between stress and cancer has been investigated by researchers exploring whether people who experienced extreme stress were more likely to develop cancer. Many large studies of cancer and stress were done in Denmark, one of which looked at the incidence of cancer in 11,380 parents whose children had cancer. It found that the incidence of cancer among the parents was no higher than members of the general population. Another study looked at the cancer rate among 21,062 parents who had lost a child. There was no increase in cancer among the parents for up to 18 years afterward. Similarly, studies have shown no convincing evidence of rates of recurrence in women who have suffered a loss in the months and years after cancer treatment has ended.

Most scientific studies have found that stress does not increase the risk of cancer. One study had even found that high stress levels can actually reduce the risk of breast cancer, by lowering oestrogen levels. And even in the event that stress and cancer are linked, the effects would be very small compared to other factors such as lifestyle, age or family history
— Cancer Research UK

Nevertheless, despite studies which show weak evidence of an association between stressful events and a diagnosis of cancer, many people still hold the belief that stress is a factor in causing cancer. We could look at the issue another way. People who are chronically stressed may turn to unhealthy ways of coping such as smoking, drinking or eating excessively. We know these are risk factors for developing cancer, so perhaps this is our indirect link. 

While it is true that stress impacts your health, cancer is a complex disease and the scientific evidence that stress causes cancer is inconclusive. However,  there is no denying that stress can cause other health problems that negatively impact our lives.

It’s unrealistic to think we can avoid stress completely. Everyone feels stressed at some point in their lives. But long periods of stress can cause mental health problems such as anxiety and depression and can contribute to physical health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and ulcers. It makes sense then to get our stress levels under control. Adopting healthier coping mechanisms, such as learning stress-management techniques, and taking the time to meditate and exercise can help with this. Counselling and talk therapy can also help you cope with psychological stress.  

At Strive Clinic our integrated care model emphasises the fundamental relationship between physical health and mental health. We offer a comprehensive mental health service in our clinic and also through our secure online telehealth platform Strive At Home.  We are happy for you to refer yourself to our Mental Health service by calling reception, or you can be referred by your GP, Consultant or another healthcare provider. For complex medical conditions, we suggest you obtain a referral letter from your consultant, GP, or clinical nurse specialist, including your medical history and treatments to date. This will help us to better understand your unique health needs and create a personalised programme of care. 

You are also welcome to contact us directly to book your appointment. With your consent, we are happy to contact your network of healthcare providers on your behalf to collect the medical information required to create your unique programme of care.

To book an appointment with our Mental Health service or to find out more about the programmes we offer, please fill out the form below. 

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