According to a recent article published in the British Medical Journal, high levels of stress may provide biological protection against the development of breast cancer in women. However, the researchers caution that “cumulative health consequences of stress may be disadvantageous”. These results need further investigation to confirm findings.
Breast cancer is diagnosed in over 200,000 women annually in the United States alone. Due to its prevalence, research has focused on ways to prevent the disease altogether. Stress has been under intense scrutiny as a possible culprit in the development of various diseases, including cancer. While stress has been implicated in possibly worsening conditions of cardiovascular health, migraines, and anxiety disorders (to name a few), researchers have not yet been able to definitively link stress to an increased risk of developing cancer.
A recent study was conducted by researchers in Denmark to further investigate a possible association between stress and the incidence of breast cancer. This study included 6,690 women who were participating in the Copenhagen City heart study. Participants were asked about their perceived stress levels on a 6-point scale and were followed for 18 years.
During the follow-up period, 251 participants had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Women with stress had lower rates of breast cancer. In fact, those with high levels of stress had a 40% reduced risk of developing breast cancer, compared to women with low levels of stress. Furthermore, for each increase of stress level on the given scale, an 8% reduction in the risk of breast cancer occurred. The reduction in risk was most pronounced in women receiving hormone therapy. The researchers hypothesize that lower estrogen levels in the body, which are often a consequence of stress, may provide protection against the development of breast cancer among these women.
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The researchers concluded that stress appears to provide a protective benefit against the development of breast cancer, with higher stress levels correlating with a greater reduction in its incidence. However, they caution that results from this study alone cannot provide definitive evidence and further research evaluating this association is necessary. Furthermore, the overall toll of stress on the body may ultimately do more harm than good.
Reference: Nielsen N, Zhang Z-F, Kristensen T, et al. Self reported stress and risk of breast cancer: prospective cohort study. British Medical Journal. 2005; 331:548. doi:10.1136/bmj.38547.638183.06.
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