When dealing with cancer, most people immediately change their diets, begin taking supplements, try to eliminate environmental toxins, and begin exercising to rebuild themselves during their cancer care. While nutrition is the most important component during and after your cancer care, you also need to get your stress under control and find a way to eliminate or change the stressors that create your stress.
Currently, the scientific community is showing that stress and the stress reaction are a viable spark and fuel for the development and progression of cancer. To further understand how this can happen, allow me to explain what "stress" really is.
It is a bit of a complicated topic, so as you read this post, be sure to re-read anything that you may not understand at first glance.
What Is "Stress"?
Unless it's physical, like an injury or a burn, stress is really a perception. A stressor is a momentary threat, which creates an adaptive response in the body in order to ensure survival. This momentary threat causes the release of hormones (cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine) which:
- increases respiration
- increases pupil size
- increases blood sugar
- relaxes gut function
- heightens strength
This process is better known as the 'fight or flight' response. Once the stressor goes away, the stress response also reduces, allowing the body's homeostasis to return to normal. The danger occurs when long-term stressors cause the stress response to be prolonged and chronic.
Long-term stressors and the constant release of cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine (noradrenaline) have been shown to ignite the onset of cancer.
What Does Stress Do To the Body?
Interferes With Tumor Suppression
- Causes poor sleep patterns, which can increase inflammation in the body, which in turn causes DNA damage and poor DNA repair.
- High levels of stress and chronic stress have been linked to immune suppression.
- Can cause weak immune responses in people with ovarian and breast cancer.
- Can prevent chemotherapy from killing cancer.
- Prevents damaged -- potentially cancerous -- cells from committing suicide, or apoptosis.
- Suppresses the white blood cells, which destroy cancer cells. This alone is enough to be a primary cause of tumor development.
- Compromises DNA repair mechanisms, AKA the initial step in cancer and tumors development.
- Shuts off stress hormones that prevent tumor development.
- Causes cytokines cells to inactivate tumor-suppressor genes.
- Makes well-known tumor suppressor genes, like BRCA, fail to prevent the development of breast cancer.
- Causes the release of a protein called VEGF that creates growth of blood vessels to tumors. Those small tumors also spit out a protein called HIF‑1, which causes blood vessels to grow from existing blood vessels, thus creating a way to supply tumors with nutrients.
- Promotes tumor metastasis and allows cancer cells to invade other tissues.
Clinical studies also indicate that depression, a lack of social support, an inability to cope, bereavement, and post-traumatic stress can all influence the onset of cancer and its progression. While there is much to discuss regarding chronic stress and cancer, it is clear that unresolved stressors can affect all stages of the development of cancer—from initiation to progression, angiogenesis, and metastasis.
By changing your perception of the stressors and/or eliminating them, you can minimize the release of these hormones and the destructive effects they may have on the body.
Do you have any tips for dealing with stress? Share your advice in the comments below.