Did you know that stress not only leads to the development but also the progression of cancer cells within the body?
Chronic stress has been proven to promote inflammation in the body through increasing pro-inflammatory cytokines in the body. These cytokines cause the inflammatory response to become habituated in the body. When under stress, immune system cells produce levels of inflammation that serve to promote the spread of cancer cells. Even tumor cells from actively growing tumors “produce and secrete an array of cytokines and chemokines” which help in attracting inflammatory cells and mast cells to the tumor, subsequently helping the tumors to progress and metastasize. Tumor cells also stimulate the proliferation and activation of endothelial cells. These cells play a key role in the development and function of blood and lymph vessels within the tumor, and contribute to tumor growth and metastasis to distant sites and organs.
What studies have shown
One study that helps illustrates this effect revealed that when mice—transplanted with human tumors—were put under stressful conditions, their tumors were more likely to grow and metastasize. In particular, tumors transplanted within their mammary fat pads had much higher rates of spread to the lungs and lymph nodes if the mice were chronically stressed than if the mice were not stressed. This can be attributed to the effect of norepinephrine—part of the body’s “fight or flight response” which is known to promote angiogenesis (the development of new blood cells for the tumor) and metastasis. Other human studies have also proven a link between stress and cancer growth. One study that grouped eighty ovarian cancer tissue samples by stress levels of the participants revealed that elevated stress hormones were associated with higher levels of a protein called FAK, which has been shown to promote a faster progression of metastasis throughout the body.
Given that tumor cell dissemination is a key step in cancer metastasis, researchers have discovered that utilizing beta blockers to inhibit the signaling of norepinephrine can reduce metastasis. How? Through minimizing the changes in density of lymph vessels at the tumor site, the likelihood of a recurring metastasis would be reduced. In other words, people themselves can possess the same ability as a beta blocker, through being able to better control their stress responses.
How does this relate to you?
Whether or not you have been diagnosed with cancer, it’s incredibly important to manage your stress. Practices that include mindfulness, meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and self-love all serve to decrease cortisol within the body. Adaptogen herbs such as ashwaganda, holy basil, and amla have also been proven to help the body counteract the effects of stress. Remember that your health comes first, and no stressful situation should ever be worth compromising your health.