The Link Between Stress and Breast Cancer

Who among us doesn’t have stress in their lives?

Research results confirming a frightening link between stress and breast cancer was presented last September at the Conference on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities. This confab had been organized by the American Association for Cancer Research. 

A Link between Stress and Tumor Aggressiveness

This study found that:

  1. Black and Hispanic breast-cancer patients reported suffering from higher levels of stress than did the white participants. 
  2. When examined under the microscope by pathologists, breast-cancer cells from the tumors of black and Hispanic women were more apt to have prognostic factors that were characteristic of more aggressive cancers.

During the first part of the study, the participating patients described all their feelings of fear, anxiety, and isolation--feelings that, when they occur together, are referred to as psychological stress. Then, the researchers looked for associations between such a state of emotional stress and the kinds of breast tumors that are unusually aggressive.  

Their investigation found that those women who felt greater stress were significantly more likely to have the most aggressive tumors.

Flaws in this Study

It is important to know that this study has some serious flaws. For one, the scientists did not try to collect any information about what these women's stress levels were like before they were diagnosed with breast cancer. In an ideal experiment, the researchers would have first measured the stress levels of all the women 5 to 7 years before diagnosis, and then again at the time of diagnosis. That way, the stress levels could have been compared as part of a longitudinal study.

Still, this information is concerning to see. No doubt more research will be done to explore this phenomenon further.


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