According to results recently published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), women with breast cancer leading a stressful life do not have an increase in cancer recurrences compared to other women with breast cancer.

Breast cancer is diagnosed in approximately 200,000 women annually in the United States. Early-stage breast cancer is considered quite curable with standard therapies, however, women who have gone through treatment and have no detectable cancer may still ultimately experience a cancer recurrence. Some clinical studies have suggested that women with breast cancer who have stressful life experiences may have a greater risk of a cancer recurrence than women with less stressful lives. In addition, some clinical studies have implied that women with breast cancer who apparently handle stress better than others appear to have improved survival. However, most of these clinical studies were based on data that was analyzed in a retrospective manner.

Recently, researchers in England attempted to gather more information regarding an association between stress and cancer recurrences. The study involved 170 women under the age of 60 that had been newly diagnosed with early-stage, operable breast cancer. Information was collected concerning “stressful life experiences”, depression and disease characteristics. Patients were followed for five years or until there was a cancer recurrence.

Women who had experienced one or more extremely stressful life experiences one year prior to diagnosis did not have an increased risk of a cancer recurrence compared to women who had not experienced an extremely stressful life experience in that time. Furthermore, women who experienced one or more extremely stressful life experiences during the five years following diagnosis actually had a decreased risk of a cancer recurrence. In fact, women who had experienced one or more extremely stressful life experiences had approximately half the risk of a recurrence compared to women who had not experienced an extremely stressful life experience during the five years following diagnosis.

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The results from this clinical study refute those of previous studies and indicate that stressful life experiences do not appear to increase the risk of cancer recurrences in women with operable breast cancer, but may actually decrease the risk of a recurrence. However, this concept is difficult to measure and further studies are warranted. These researchers concluded that these results may comfort women with operable breast cancer who are experiencing stressful situations as the stress does not appear to increase the risk of a cancer recurrence.

Reference: Graham J, Ramirez A, Love S, et al. Stressful life experiences and risk of relapse of breast cancer: observational cohort study.

BMJ. 2002;324:1420.

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