"Stress is the cause of all illness" is a common phrase most Turkish mothers tell their children; it turns out they are not entirely wrong. As we struggle to get through the chaos of everyday life, our stress level rise and over time when stress becomes chronic, it can harm the body, causing everything from inflammation to cardiometabolic diseases. However, some argue that stress also plays a huge role in cancer, but how so?
Studies suggest several ways that stress may influence cancer development, says Shelley Tworoger, an associate professor of population science at the Moffitt Cancer Center. In those who already have certain types of cancer, stress can accelerate progression and worsen outcomes, increasing evidence suggests. However, there are more questions about whether or not chronic stress can cause cancer in the first place, according to an article published by Live Science.
The U.S. based National Cancer Institute, on the other hand, suggests that there is not enough evidence to link cancer to stress. In fact, a certain amount of stress is very healthy for our body and helps human beings as well as other living creatures react to dangerous situations. During a stressful situation, the body turns on two key pathways: The sympathetic nervous system, which triggers the fight or flight response and the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis, which releases a key stress hormone called cortisol.
However, according to Tworoger when stress becomes chronic and extreme anxiety turns into a reality of our normal life, a huge amount of the stress hormone is released into our body, which is not designed to handle that much stress. Indeed stress weakens the immune system and creates the perfect place for cancer cells to duplicate.
The long-term release of stress hormones can also induce DNA damage and affect DNA repair, said Melanie Flint, a senior lecturer in immunopharmacology at the University of Brighton, U.K., who also spoke at the annual American Association for Cancer Research meeting in Atlanta.
A Japanese study published in 2017 in the journal Scientific Reports looked at the correlation between stress levels and cancer in more than 100,000 people. They found no association between short-term stress and cancer incidence but found that individuals, specifically men, who consistently had high-stress levels for a long time, had an 11 percent greater risk of developing cancer than those with consistently low-stress levels.
Cancer remains a major threat to public health across the world. Some 9.6 million people die from cancer every year and at least one-third of common cancers are preventable according to experts who point out that cancer is the second-leading cause of deaths worldwide. In Turkey, around 164,000 people are diagnosed with cancer every year, roughly 450 people on a daily basis.
As a total cure for all types of cancer still remains elusive, early diagnosis and raising public awareness about the causes of the disease are key to the fight against cancer.