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Stress and Cancer

Worry 363x290Cancer can cause psychological stress which may impact a person’s overall wellbeing and potentially their ability to cope with their diagnosis and treatment. Coping strategies help to reduce stress and help patients and families to feel less overwhelmed and cancer patients have a better quality of life while they are being treated when they use specific types of coping strategies. Research does suggest that patients who use more coping strategies and are more flexible in their ability to change their strategies when one is not working are able to feel better and may avoid additional complications that can be brought on by stress.

When dealing with psychological stress, people tend to feel they are under mental, physical, or emotional pressure. If they experience high levels of stress or are faced with it repeatedly over a long period of time, it can lead to mental and/or physical health problems. Stress can result in people feeling that they are unable to manage or control the changes in their life whether it is brought on by cancer or from their daily life activities.

Side effects to having stress include physical, mental or emotional pressure that can increase blood pressure, speed heart rate and raise blood sugar levels. If stress is experienced on an intense level or for a long period of time (i.e., chronic), it may result in additional physical and psychological challenges. Digestive difficulties are a common occurrence related to stress.   Fertility issues, urinary problems, and a weakened immune system have also been reported. Chronic stress is associated with increases in viral infections like the flu or common cold.

Although there isn’t a direct relation in having psychological stress and getting cancer, there are some lifestyle decisions from having stress that may increase a person’s risk in getting it. For example, a person dealing with stress may develop certain behaviors like smoking, overeating, or drinking alcohol. By adopting these coping strategies, cancer becomes a bigger potential threat in one’s life.

If people are able to use effective coping strategies in dealing with stress, they tend to have lower levels of depression and anxiety which bring about a better quality of life. Emotional and social support help patients in dealing with psychological stress.

Suggestions to improve a patient’s capability to cope with stress include:

  • Taking classes on relaxation, meditation, or stress management
  • Speaking with a therapist or psychologist
  • Cancer education sessions or lectures
  • Attending support group sessions
  • Using medication for depression or anxiety

Recent research has begun to investigate the role of stress and cancer progression and the most up-to-date research on this topic was presented on February 10, 2015 at the Insights Into Cancer lecture series.  This lecture is now viewable through our center website at:  https://www.simmsmanncenter.ucla.edu/?p=4429

If interested in attending a support group at the Simms/Mann UCLA Center, go to: https://www.simmsmanncenter.ucla.edu/?p=282

For detailed information on “Psychological Stress and Cancer” from the National Cancer Institute, go to: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/stress

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