Chronic stress provokes the development of cancer

Much has been said and written about the dangers of excess stress, and its harmful consequences for the body are well known. Thus, chronic stress increases the risk of strokes and other cardiovascular diseases, and also leads to the development of anxiety and depressive disorders. Scientists are also reporting other, more unpleasant consequences of chronic stress – it turns out that it can contribute to the spread of cancer, but exactly how this happens is not fully known. A paper recently published in the journal Cancer Cell says researchers may have gained insight into how excess and chronic stress affects cancer patients – stress causes certain white blood cells called neutrophils to form sticky, web-like structures that make body tissues more susceptible. to metastasis. The new discovery, as its authors note, may indicate new strategies for treating cancer.

Chronic stress provokes the development of cancer. Chronic stress contributes to the spread of cancer in the body. Photo.

Chronic stress contributes to the spread of cancer in the body

Chronic stress is a physiological process initiated by environmental and/or psychosocial factors affecting memory, cognition and behavior, as well as the homeostasis of the entire organism, including the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and immune systems.


  • 1 Stress is a natural reaction
  • 2 When does stress become dangerous?
  • 3 Chronic stress and oncology
  • 4 Breakthrough in research

Stress is a natural reaction

The human body's response to stress allows us to protect ourselves from threats – for our distant ancestors, such threats were mainly predators and hostile strangers. And although it is almost impossible to meet dangerous predators on the streets of modern cities, and the manifestation of aggressive behavior in public places is rare, life is still full of stress, and the body reacts to it in the same way as it did hundreds and thousands of years ago.

So, the place of an angry predator is taken by daily responsibilities – work, paying bills and even caring for loved ones. It sounds a little strange, yes, but the body does perceive everyday tasks as a threat, which can make it feel like you're constantly under attack. Coping with such stress is not easy, and its negative effects cause direct harm to physical health.

Stress is a natural reaction. Everyday problems can cause chronic stress. Photo.

Daily problems can cause chronic stress

There is a scientific explanation for this effect – when we are faced with a perceived threat, a tiny area at the base of the brain – the hypothalamus – sets off alarms in the body that, through nerve and hormonal signals, prompt the adrenal glands, located at the top of the kidneys, to release a surge of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.

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Adrenaline makes your heart beat faster, increases your blood pressure and gives you more energy. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases blood sugar levels and increases the availability of tissue repair substances in the body. This complex natural signaling system also interacts with areas of the brain that control mood, motivation, and fear.

When does stress become dangerous?

The body's stress response system is usually self-limiting. Once the perceived threat has passed, hormones return to normal levels. As adrenaline and cortisol levels decrease, heart rate and blood pressure return to normal levels. Other systems return to their normal activities.

But when stressors are always present and you always feel attacked, the fight-or-flight response occurs. remains on. Is it any wonder that prolonged activation of the stress response system and excessive exposure to cortisol and other stress hormones can disrupt almost every process in the body and lead to a variety of health problems.

When does stress become dangerous? A number of diseases are directly related to chronic stress. Photo.

A number of diseases are directly related to chronic stress

Depression, anxiety, digestive problems, headaches and muscle pain, cardiovascular disease, weight gain, problems with sleep and concentration are the consequences of chronic stress. And, as scientists recently found out, this is not all.

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Chronic stress and oncology

Oncological diseases claim millions of lives every year, and their treatment is a complex and lengthy process that does not always have a positive outcome. Moreover, cancer patients have many sources of significant stress, including worries about prognosis and treatment progress, as well as extended weeks, months, and sometimes years of therapy. At the same time, chronic stress can contribute to the development of cancer, which has remained a mystery to scientists for a long time.

Stress is something we really can't avoid in cancer patients. After diagnosis, patients are constantly thinking about the disease, treatment and family, so it is critical to understand how stress affects disease progression and therapy, explains Xue-Yang He, a graduate student at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York.

Chronic stress and cancer. Severe stress contributes to the progression of cancer. Photo.

Severe stress contributes to the progression of cancer

Now, researchers may have achieved a breakthrough in understanding why chronic stress allows cancers to metastasize. Thus, an international team of scientists has discovered that stress causes white blood cells called neutrophils to form sticky, web-like structures that make the body's tissues more susceptible to metastasis.

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A breakthrough in research

New research may point to previously unknown cancer treatment strategies that stop tumors from developing and spreading in the body. Scientists came to this conclusion by provoking chronic stress in mice with cancer. By observing animals whose tumors had metastasized from the chest to the lungs and exposing them to stress, the scientists saw an alarming increase in metastatic lesions. “The number of metastases increased fourfold,” write the authors of the scientific work.

The team also found that stress hormones called glucocorticoids act on neutrophils, which displace DNA and form web-like structures. “Usually they protect us from invasion of microorganisms, but in oncology they create an environment favorable for metastasis,” scientists explain.

A breakthrough in research. The fight against stress should become an integral part of cancer therapy. Photo.

The fight against stress should become an integral part of cancer therapy

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To confirm their findings, the researchers conducted three tests – first, they removed neutrophils from mice using antibodies, and then injected the animals with a drug that destroys the formed structure. Finally, they used mice whose neutrophils did not respond to glucocorticoids. Each test produced similar results. “Mice exposed to stress no longer developed metastases,” the article says.

It is also interesting that chronic stress, as it turned out, leads to the formation of a web-like structure changing lung tissueeven in mice without cancer. To put it simply, the formation of the structure identified by researchers practically prepares the body for the development of cancer.

A breakthrough in research. Chronic stress must be combatted. Photo.

Chronic stress must be combated

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The authors of the new work also suggested that future drugs that prevent the formation of the structure may benefit patients whose cancer has not yet metastasized. This means that new treatments can slow or even stop the progression of various cancers. And, of course, stress management should be a major component of cancer treatment and prevention.