Can stress cause cancer?

  • Stress does not directly increase cancer risk
  • But it can be harder for some people to keep healthy during stressful times, which can lead to an increased risk of cancer
  • Feeling stressed sometimes is normal, but if it’s been going on for a while, talk to your doctor – they can help you to find positive ways of managing stress that work best for you

This page provides information about stress and risk of cancer. If you have been diagnosed with cancer we have separate information on coping emotionally. 


No, being stressed doesn’t directly increase the risk of cancer.

The best quality studies have followed up many people for several years. They have found no evidence that those who are more stressed are more likely to get cancer. 

Some people wonder whether stress causes breast cancer. But overall, the evidence for this has been poor. And a large study of over 100,000 women in the UK in 2016 showed no consistent evidence between stress and breast cancer.


But how you cope with or manage stress can affect your health.

It’s very common to feel stressed, and it’s likely that everyone will feel stress at some point.

But people respond to stress in different ways. This can lead to changes in a person’s day to day routine that can impact their cancer risk.

For some, stressful times can make it more difficult to be healthy. Remember, 4 in 10 cancer cases could be prevented. Things to think about include:



Do you only smoke, or smoke more when you are stressed? Remember, it’s never too late to get free stop smoking support.



Stress may change what and how much you eat. Having a healthy, balanced diet is a proven way to reduce cancer risk.



Do you drink alcohol when you’re stressed or more than you usually would? Don’t forget, the less alcohol you drink, the lower the risk of cancer.


Physical activity

Stress may affect how much you move or exercise during the day. But being more active can help to prevent cancer. What counts as exercise may surprise you.


How can I manage stress?

Feeling stressed is normal, but long periods of stress have been linked to high blood pressure and depression. If you’re struggling to cope with stress, it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor

You can find information and tips about coping with stress on the NHS and Mind websites.


There are many cancer myths, including stress, that haven’t been proven to cause cancer. However, there are proven causes of cancer, and things you can do to reduce your risk.


Heikkila K, Nyberg ST, Theorell T, et al. Work stress and risk of cancer: meta-analysis of 5700 incident cancer events in 116,000 European men and women. Bmj. 2013;346:f165.

Schoemaker MJ, Jones ME, Wright LB, et al. Psychological stress, adverse life events and breast cancer incidence: a cohort investigation in 106,000 women in the United Kingdom. Breast Cancer Res. 2016;18(1):72. doi:10.1186/s13058-016-0733-1.


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