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Is Stress Connected to Increased Cancer Risk?

Is Stress Connected to Increased Cancer Risk?

Stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s a biological and psychological reaction to unfamiliar, outside threats. Stress can be beneficial to the body in small doses. It can provide sufficient motivation, energy, and inspiration to help you power through the day. Too much stress, however, can be a burden. A chronically stressful workplace or home environment makes for an uncomfortable life. Chronic stress can also take a toll on one’s physical wellbeing. It can also affect your emotional health. Too much stress may even lead to an increased risk of cancer. Does stress cause cancer? Read on to learn more about the connection between a stressful environment and increased cancer risk.

Cancer: A Closer Look

Our cells die natural deaths. They get worn out and are replaced by new cells. Cancer occurs when these new cells multiply rapidly and uncontrollably. They overcrowd spaces meant for normal cells. Sometimes they form into tumors, which are solid blocks of cancer cells.

Cancer can start anywhere, and its origin usually determines its type. There are lung, colon, breast, prostate, and skin cancers, to name a few.

They are often categorized as well according to “stages,” which determine how far and fast the cancer has spread. There are four stages. Stage one indicates the early stages of cancer, while stage four indicates a more progressive form.

Cancer symptoms include:

  • Overwhelming and consistent fatigue
  • Fluctuating changes in weight
  • Formation of lumps
  • Persistent coughing
  • Difficulty in breathing and swallowing
  • Persistent indigestion, muscle and joint pains, and fevers
  • Sporadic bleeding and bruising
  • Voice hoarseness

Cancer is usually treated through chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or a combination of the three — depending on the type and stage of the cancer.

According to the CDC, cancer is the second leading cause of death in the whole world, right behind heart disease. Despite the prevalence of cancer, doctors are still not sure what causes it. Inherited genes, genetic mutations, and your body’s reaction to a stressful environment are all common theories that are thought to increase cancer risk.

Stress: What Exactly Is It?

Before we can answer the question “Does stress cause cancer?” let’s take a closer look at what stress does to the body.

Stress is your body’s natural reaction to danger. According to scientists, stress is an evolutionary trait that heightens our fight-or-flight response. When we are stressed, our body tenses up, we sweat, and our heart rate increases. Sometimes this is a good thing, depending on the situation. But being exposed to stress for prolonged periods takes a toll on the body.

There are two major types of stress:

  • Good stress

This is associated with “butterflies” in your stomach. Nervousness, sweaty palms, and an increased heart rate are the usual symptoms of this type of stress. Good stress normally lasts for a short period of time only.

  • Bad stress

This kind of stress, on the other hand, lasts for long periods of time. It is usually known by its other name: chronic stress. Its causes are often psychological and emotional.

Individuals may experience this kind of stress when being bullied, abused, or traumatized. Or they may experience chronic stress during difficult times in their life, such as a divorce, loss of a job, or a death in the family. Chronic stress may also result from having an overwhelming workload, a busy schedule, or a pressure-filled environment.

Chronic stress, if left unchecked, may lead to the following:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • High blood pressure
  • Migraines
  • Chest and body pain
  • Overeating and weight gain
  • Heavy alcohol and drug use

Does Stress Cause Cancer? What Is the Connection?

Due to the effects of stress and cancer on the human body, they are often interlinked. It is inaccurate to say that stress causes cancer. Chronic stress exhibits many similar physical symptoms to cancer. Increased risk factors of cancer, such as an excessive lifestyle and a tough environment, are factors involved with chronic stress.

Which brings us to the question: Does stress cause cancer? The answer is both yes and no.

There is no clear and direct link between stress and cancer. The known causes of cancer are mainly rooted in genetics.

There are also many studies that prove that there is no direct relation between a stressful environment and cancer. A study on workplace-related stress concluded that stress by itself did not increase chances of getting cancer.

A more recent study on older men who engaged in stressful work in their youth produced similar results. Another survey of nearly 100, 000 women proved little to no relation between breast cancer and psychological stress.

Does stress cause cancer? Given the evidence, studies have shown that stress does not cause cancer.

On the other hand, exposure to a stressful environment may lead to a lifestyle that increases one’s predisposition to cancer. For example, people under chronic stress may develop drinking habits. Overeating and heavy smoking are also known coping mechanisms for stress. All these increase cancer risk.

A stressful lifestyle also impacts those who already have cancer. New research discovered that chronic stress reduces the effectiveness of cancer treatments. Stress hormones may also speed up the growth of cancer cells.

We can conclude that stress does not directly cause cancer. But there is certain evidence that shows that a stressful lifestyle and environment may increase the risk of getting cancer.

Does Stress Cause Cancer? Tips on Managing Stress

Here are some tips to prevent and manage stress.

  • Incorporate more exercise into your daily routine.

Exercise is proven to help with cancer care. A study found that doing yoga improved the psychological wellbeing and quality of life of cancer patients.

  • Limit your vices.

Avoid drinking, smoking, and eating unhealthy food as much as possible. Leading a healthy lifestyle will be better for you and your body in the long run.

  • Avoid stressors.

This is definitely easier said than done. But it is beneficial to find ways to avoid stress whenever you can. At work, learn new ways to cope with stress and an overwhelming workload.

  • Relax and practice meditation.

Lastly, don’t be too overwhelmed by life’s troubles. Remember to breathe deeply and take a few moments to meditate daily.

Key Takeaway

Does stress cause cancer? While there are no clear ties between stress and cancer, unhealthy living due to stress can increase cancer risk. It is important to relax, take care of your body, and avoid stressful situations. By doing so, you can reduce the risk of cancer, and improve your overall health and well-being.

Learn more about Cancer here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


What Is Cancer? https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-basics/what-is-cancer.html, Accessed Sept. 4, 2021

Leading Causes of Death, https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm, Accessed Sept. 4, 2021

Blanc-Lapierre, A. et al. “Perceived Workplace Stress Is Associated with an Increased Risk of Prostate Cancer before Age 65.” Web. 13 Nov 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5693840/, Accessed Sept. 4, 2021

Schoemaker, M.J. 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. Web. 15 Jul 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4946095/, Accessed Sept. 4, 2021

Psychological Stress and Cancer, https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/coping/feelings/stress-fact-sheet, Accessed Sept. 4, 2021

Stress suppresses response to cancer treatments,
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171127095000.htm, Accessed Sept. 4, 2021

Moreno-Smith, M. et al. “Impact of stress on cancer metastasis.” Future Oncol. Web. 2011. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3037818/, Accessed Sept. 4, 2021

Agarwal, RP & Maroko-Afek A. “Yoga into Cancer Care: A Review of the Evidence-based Research.” Int J Yoga. Web. 2018. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29343927, Accessed Sept. 4, 2021

How to handle stress at work, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-to-handle-stress-at-work-2019041716436, Accessed Sept. 4, 2021

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Written by Ruby Fernandez Updated 3 weeks ago
Fact Checked by Hello Doctor Medical Panel