A stressed man

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.

It has been suggested 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, which isn't a reliable way of measuring stress.

Most scientific studies have found that stress does not increase the risk of cancer. A recent nationwide study in Denmark that looked at the association between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and cancer found PTSD didn’t 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 2013 meta-analysis including over 100,000 people found no link between stress and bowel, lung, breast or prostate cancers.

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.

Being active can help some people to manage their stress, and keeping active can help reduce the risk of certain types of cancer as well as other diseases.

Learn more about physical activity and cancer.   

Mind, the mental health charity, has some useful information on managing stress.

Or contact the Mind Info line for information and support about stress:

Last reviewed

Rate this page:

Currently rated: 3 out of 5 based on 67 votes
Thank you!
We've recently made some changes to the site, tell us what you think

Find a clinical trial

Search our clinical trials database for all cancer trials and studies recruiting in the UK

Cancer Chat forum

Talk to other people affected by cancer

Nurse helpline

0808 800 4040

Questions about cancer? Call freephone or email us

Share this page