Everyone feels stressed at some point in their lives. In small doses, stress can be positive, making us more alert and improving our performance. But long periods of stress can contribute to high blood pressure and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.
Does stress affect cancer risk?
Stressful events can alter the levels of hormones in the body and affect the immune system. But there is no evidence that these changes could lead to cancer.
Some people believe that stress can cause cancer, particularly breast cancer. But the evidence for this has been poor. While a few studies have found a link, they have often only looked at a small number of participants or asked women to recall if they were stressed before they developed the disease.
Most scientific studies have found that stress does not increase the risk of cancer. Research that combines the results from many different studies, called meta-analyses, can often provide the most reliable indication of cancer risk. A recent meta-analysis, including over 100,000 people, found no link between stress and bowel, lung, breast or prostate cancers.
One study 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.
Does stress affect how likely we are to make healthy choices?
Stressful situations can sometimes encourage less healthy choices, such as smoking, overeating or heavy drinking. We know that these activities can lead to cancer, so in this way, stress could indirectly increase your cancer risk.
How can I reduce my stress levels?
With regards to cancer, stress isn't something to stress about! Coping with stress may not reduce your risk of cancer, but it can have other health benefits.
Mind, the mental health charity, has some useful information on managing stress.
Or contact the Mind Info line for information and support about stress:
- Call 0300 123 3393 (9am-6pm, Monday-Friday)
- E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org