Is Breast Cancer Risk Increased By Stress?

This is a preliminary piece of research, but valuable information for those at risk.


Without a doubt stress impacts virtually all of our bodily functions, including our hormone balance, but new research shows that stress hormones can help breast cancer grow, spread, and diversify, which makes it harder to treat.

A New Study

Previous research suggests that exposure to chronic (long-term) stress is one factor that contributes to cancer cell growth in breast cancer.

Now, a new study conducted by a Prof. Bentires-Alj and team from the University of Basel and the University Hospital of Basel in Switzerland has uncovered further evidence to suggest that stress can fuel the spread of breast cancer tumours, perhaps also supporting their diversification.

The study on mice found that stress hormones support breast cancer metastasis and they also found that the stress hormone derivatives present in certain anti-inflammatory treatments could actually “disarm” chemotherapy agents.

New cell-tracking technique sheds light on breast cancer spread as researchers are gaining a better understanding about how breast cancer spreads.

They observed that when these stress hormones are highly present, they activate glucocorticoid receptors. This, they explain, triggers cancer cells’ spread and supports their diversification.
Furthermore, Prof. Bentires-Alj and colleagues saw that glucocorticoid receptors also interact with synthetic derivatives of cortisol — for example, dexamethasone — which doctors use as anti-inflammatories to address some of chemotherapy’s side effects.

This is only a preliminary study in mice but it sheds light on the mechanisms through which stress can contribute to the spread of breast cancer.

How to help reduce your risk

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women; and one in eight women in the UK will develop the disease during their lifetime.

Almost half – 48 per cent – of breast cancer cases in the UK each year are diagnosed in women aged 65 and is one of the most common types of cancer.

The good news is that at the present time almost 9 in 10 women survive breast cancer for five years or more.

Although breast cancer is also one of the most treatable types of cancer, once it metastasizes — that is, grows and spreads — it can be quick to diversify.

Clearly the basics of a healthy, varied diet and regular exercise have always played their part, but now specifically dealing with stress needs to be added into any cancer prevention programme.

Helpful information:

These findings highlight the importance of stress management in patients — and especially those with triple-negative breast cancer. Moderate exercise and relaxation techniques have been shown to correlate with enhanced quality of life and greater survival in patients.

Breast cancer risk is associated with high oestrogen and low progesterone levels (oestrogen dominance) so this is also an important step in women who know they are already at risk.