Does Stress Cause Cancer?

June 6, 2013 — Leave a comment
Stress is the soil the supports cancer growth

Stress is the soil the supports cancer growth

“I know stress caused my cancer.”

This is a common belief of many cancer patients. In studies, women will state over and over they are absolutely convinced stress caused their breast cancer. They will say they can pinpoint the growth of their cancer to a specific time of extreme emotional distress that occurred five or more years before being diagnosed.

Is their intuition correct? Can chronic stress cause cancer?

I have learned, when it comes to their health, a woman’s intuition sometimes seems uncanny. I am convinced, when it comes to their children’s health, a mother needs to listen very carefully to their intuition. Although these situations are anecdotal, a common belief of cancer patients is that stress caused their cancer.

The Relationship Between Chronic Stress and Cancer

The link between emotional stress and the cause of cancer has puzzled researchers for some time. The American Cancer Society’s response to the question, “can stress cause cancer?” follows:

“The link between psychological stress and cancer has not been proven. Looking at the studies that have been done, it seems they sometimes come to opposite conclusions.”

However, medical research shows there is a clear relationship between the growth of a cancer tumor and chronic stress.

Cancer begins as a single cell that has mutated. Think of this cell as a single seed that has the potential to grow into a malignant tumor. Cancer cells exist in our bodies all of the time. A healthy immune system attacks cancer cells as foreign bodies and destroys them. One of the proven effects of stress is to suppress the immune system.

A useful analogy of the growth of a cancer cell is that of a garden seed planted in soil. Water does not create the seed or caused it to exist. Yet, the seed cannot thrive and grow without it. In the human body, the stress hormone cortisol is to cancer as water is to a garden seed.

Just as garden seeds need water and sunshine to grow, a certain set of conditions must be present for a cluster of harmless abnormal cells (known as an in sutu tumor) to be able to grow into a large malignant mass and metastasize.

Stress Hormones Can Aid The Growth Of Cancer Tumors In The Following Ways:

Stress hormones cause inflammation which aids the growth of small blood vessels.

The hormone cortisol prepares the body to repair itself after a potential wound. Part of the “fight or flight” response is for the body to be ready to repair itself. Inflammation (swelling) is part of the mechanism necessary for tissue repair. For the body’s tissue to be able to repair itself, the growth of small blood vessels are needed to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the site.

Cancer cells also need inflammation to sustain their growth. Cancer cells use the inflammation caused by cortisol.

A living cell cannot survive if it is not in contact with tiny blood vessels. Causing these blood vessels to sprout is called angiogenesis. Micro tumors cannot become dangerous cancer tumors without creating a network of blood vessels to feed them.

Stress hormones cause a craving for sugary processed foods.

As part of the job of protecting the body after a “fight or flight” situation, cortisol drives the body to replenishing lost energy. It does this by creating cravings for fat, salty, sugary processed foods.  These highly processed sugary foods cause glucose (blood sugar) to “hit” your bloodstream almost immediately. This satisfies the sugar cravings caused by stress hormones; but, it also creates the sugar-high\sugar-low cycle that causes insulin resistance (for additional information click here).

The reason stress hormones stimulate a sugar craving is to prepare the body to be able to replenish the energy used by your muscles in an emergency.

Part of cortisol’s job is to make sure there is a lot of insulin and glucose in the bloodstream. However, if the stress hormones are present as a result of emotional stress rather than a real physical “fight or flight” situation, your muscles did not need to burn energy. There is no need for the extra energy (glucose) in your muscles. All of this extra energy will now be used by cancer cells for their growth or it will be stored as fat. Either way, you lose.

Stress hormones cause the growth of cells.

When the body releases insulin into the blood to enable glucose to enter cells, the secretion of IGF (insulinlike growth factor) accompanies it. IGF’s role is to stimulate cell growth.

In summary, the peaks of insulin and IGF not only stimulate the growth of cancer cells but it also increases their ability to invade other tissues.

Take Away

  • Chronic emotional stress causes the hormone cortisol to remain in the bloodstream continually.
  • Cortisol suppresses the immune system.
  • Stress hormones aid cancer cells growth and spread.
  • Stress hormones cause the growth of fatty tissue.

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