Stress, anxiety and cancer


Accelerated cancer may be a byproduct of stressful living. In a new study from Stanford University of Medicine, anxiety-prone and stressed out mice developed more severe cancer than the calmer control group.

The study used hairless mice. They dosed them with ultraviolet rays and found that the nervous mice, the ones with a tendency toward risk aversion, developed more tumors and invasive cancer. Consistent anxiety also left the mice sensitive to stress and weakened their immune systems. While the stress/cancer relationship is not news, this is the first study to biologically connect high anxiety to cancer risk.

“Anxiety may be defined as increased sensitivity to physically existent or non-existent but perceived or anticipated, stressors,” said immunologist Firdaus Dhabhar, PhD, lead author of the study.

Dhabhar has previously studied so-called good and bad stress. Short-lived stressors can actually boost the immune system by preparing the body for battle or flight. On the hand, constant stress breaks down the body’s ability to fight disease over time. Harder to find is that line between the two: when does short-term stress become long-term stress?

Mice find an interesting balance between the short term stress of finding food and mates while protecting themselves from danger. Dhabhar hypothesized that highly anxious mice would avoid danger. They put mice on a track which had enclosed and open areas. The mice that avoided open areas were tagged as risk-averse. Those mice also liked to stay in shadows.

After finding the nervous mice, they exposed them to UV rays. The study showed that all the mice eventually developed skin cancer, but the nervous ones also developed tumors and more invasive cancers.

Source: MedicalNewsToday, PLoS ONE


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