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21st Century Oncology Blog

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21st Century Oncology Blog

Stress and Cancer: How Does Stress Affect Cancer?

June 18, 2018

Americans are living increasingly stressful lives. Whether it’s caused by relationships, daily routines, trauma or our favorite sports team losing, stress takes a toll on our bodies – whether we know it or not. Respected research shows that stress negatively affects our bodies, minds and everyday lives much more than we think. Learning how to manage daily stress is one of the most important things we can do to achieve the best possible overall health and well-being.

If you’re undergoing cancer treatment, stress is a significant variable you can control on your road to recovery. Here at 21st Century Oncology, we want everyone to know how chronic stress can affect cancer diagnosis and treatment. Keep reading to learn how to mitigate stress and give your body the relaxation it needs.

Can Stress Cause Cancer?

Although there is no evidence that shows a direct correlation between stress and cancer, the habits of those who endure long-term stress may lead to cancer. Stressful people are more likely to smoke, drink alcohol, overeat or develop other unhealthy habits. This means that stress can indirectly increase a person’s risk for cancer.

The human body responds to stress by releasing stress hormones. These stress hormones increase blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar levels. Research shows that people who endure chronic stress are more susceptible to long-term health problems related to digestion, infection, fertility and more.

How Does Stress Affect Cancer?

Cancer understandably causes intense stress – this is a natural reaction for anyone undergoing medical treatment and for their loved ones. Cancer patients should anticipate stress so they’re more prepared to fight it. As clinicians who see stressed patients every day, we’re here to help you find ways to deal with it.

Cancer patients may find themselves trying to manage stress with behavior that negatively affects their body and cancer treatment. Your body is going through a lot. Drinking, smoking and other unhealthy habits – combined with stress hormones – only inhibit your body’s ability to heal itself and respond to treatment.

Experimental studies have shown in a variety of cases that a stress-free environment helps patients recover faster, and it can lead to slower spreading of the cancer. Although the evidence isn’t conclusive due to the difficulty of correlating stress with caner survivor rates, there’s no harm in avoiding stress as much as possible during cancer treatment.

How to Avoid Stress

Stress, especially during cancer treatment or diagnosis, is unavoidable. It’s how you manage it and what you do with these feelings that make a difference during your recovery or remission. You can manage stress in a variety of ways: 

  • Meditation
    • Sometimes we’re stressed out and don’t even know why. Meditation helps you focus and develop intentional habits. Whether you choose to do breathing or mindfulness exercises, meditation is a very effective method for mitigating stress.
  • Exercise
    • Exercise releases endorphins, which can counteract stress hormones and help you overcome the potentially debilitating effects of stress. According to the National Cancer Society, exercise improves quality of life, fatigue, psychosocial distress, depression and self‐esteem. Next time you feel stressed, try to go for a walk, break a sweat or shoot a few hoops. Your body (and mind) will thank you.
  • Therapy
    • Find a support group or a therapist to talk to about your feelings and your stress. Sometimes acknowledging that you’re not alone or speaking about your stress triggers out loud can help you overcome them and feel better.
  • Hobbies
    • Do you love to paint, knit, build things or fly kites? Whatever it is, find a way to do it! Occupying your mind with activities you love, or even new ones you want to learn, can keep the stress and anxiety at bay.

21st Century Oncology is committed to providing our patients with the resources they need to live their best lives before, during and after cancer diagnosis and treatment. Find more ways to overcome the stress during cancer treatment and remission by visiting our blog.