Emotional stress reduces the effectiveness of cancer therapy

By Charlotte Summers

It is not new information that being diagnosed with cancer causes serious emotional stress and anxiety. However, this latest research has actually confirmed that the emotional stress could actually hinder cancer therapy and recovery.

Researchers working at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre, in North Carolina in America, have tested the impact of stress on the efficiency of cancer drugs to treat prostate cancers in mice.

The research was twofold, part of the research examined mice that were bred to have a human strain of prostate cancer and were subsequently treated with a drug that is currently undergoing clinical testing. When the mice were kept calm, the drug inhibited tumour growth and killed the prostate cancer cells. Conversely, when the mice were stressed, the drug failed to have any impact on the cancerous cells and did not inhibit the tumour development.

The second trial used mice that were genetically modified to have prostate cancer. Stress was found to significantly increase the growth rate and size of the tumours. Additionally, those mice that were subjected to stress while being treated with bicalutamide, a drug which is currently used to treat prostate cancer, the tumours did not respond to the treatment. While the mice that were not stressed responded efficiently to the drug.

The researchers took the study one step further; they found that it is specifically the release of the stress hormone adrenaline in the body that triggers a cellular chain reaction which inhibits the death of cancerous cells. This means that if an individual is stressed and suffering from stress after being diagnosed with prostate cancer the therapy is likely to be significantly hindered. This means that the cancer tumour growth will not be halted and consequently, it is likely that more stress will result causing a continuous cycle of stress and cancer progression.

The team of researchers explored this concept and found that giving mice beta-blockers, a drug that inhibits the ‘anti-death’ signalling of adrenaline, meant that the stress did not stimulate the growth of the cancerous tumour.

This research is pioneering and is due to be published in February’s edition of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

The next step now is to establish if the same relationship between stress and cancer treatment is found in humans with prostate cancer, if so, there are exciting implications for stress management that can help to improve the efficiency of cancer treatment. Additionally, this study now paves the way for further investigation into the impact of stress on other forms of cancer.

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