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Stress and cancer

Stress is not a proven cause of cancer.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.

Stress and cancer

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.

Stress can lead to unhealthy behaviours

Stressful situations can sometimes encourage unhealthy behaviours such as smoking, overeating or heavy drinking. We know that these behaviours can lead to cancer so in this way, stress could indirectly increase your cancer risk.

Relieve your stress

With regards to cancer, stress isn't something to stress about! But while coping with stress may not reduce your risk of cancer, it can have other health benefits. 

The organisation Mind have some excellent information on stress available on their website

Mind also offers information and support on the MindinfoLine:

Here to help

If you are stressed because you have cancer, or you know someone with cancer, visit our CancerHelp UK pages for information on the help and support available. Cancer Research UK also have a team of specialist cancer nurses who can help you with any questions or concerns about cancer:



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Updated: 27 March 2014