The impact of psychosocial factors on the growth and progression of cancer has been a long-lasting hypothesis since time immemorial. Stress forms part of our lives, and people handle it in different ways which impact on the health of a person. In our daily lives, we hear how stress harms our minds, bodies and subsequent onset of diseases. Similarly, human beings are being exposed daily to agents in the food, air and water that causes cancer. Researchers have in the recent past been trying to determine the correlation between stress and cancer. They want to see if stress is a risk factor for the development and progression of cancer. Currently, no conclusive evidence gives the direct correlation between stress causes cancer, but there are mounting suggestions that there is a link between stress and the development of certain cancer types as well as the progression of the disease.
To start with, stress plays a role in the occurrence of cancer because stress and grief are predisposing factors to the development of breast cancer among women. It influences the progression of cancer through the alteration of the normal functioning of the immune system. These changes are a direct result of the action of stress on the central nervous system, hormones elicited by stress or through the changes in behavior. For instance, women with breast cancer have high stress levels which lower the cellular immune responses of hormones such as T-cell response which is known to hasten the progression of cancer.
Although stress does not directly cause cancer, a person who is under stress is more likely to engage in unhealthy habits that may exasperate the development of cancer. For instance, people with stress may indulge in practices that are detrimental to the health such as taking a poor diet, smoking, lack of adequate sleep or inadequate food, and indulgence in excessive alcohol intake. All these habits are known to contribute to the progression of cancer and are harmful to the life of a person living with cancer. This is because people under pressure make poor choices in life such as eating unhealthy food and they stop exercising. Seal agrees that depressed people tend to smoke more cigarettes or drink more alcohol which increases the risk of cancer (21).
Furthermore, stress is known to affect the immune system directly. For example, there is a connection between stress and getting a cold. Penedo, Antoni and Schneiderman note that this is because when a person is stressed, the body produces stress hormones that can affect the effective working of the immune system (15). A cancer patient should, therefore, avoid stress because it triggers the release of hormones that aid the progression of cancer.
Life presents a lot of stressful situations, and the response of the body is instrumental in improving our performance by helping us to be energetic, alert and take an action that enhances the body in fighting back. Encountering stress continually means that the reaction of the body is hampered and hence cannot be helpful to us. This is because the body produces hormones related to stress that makes the body susceptible to diseases and thus stress reactions reduces the effectiveness of the immune system in fighting infections. This, thereby, increases the vulnerability to illness which ranges from cancer to colds. Psychological factors can influence the immune system by inhibiting the defense of the body from invasion by foreign agents such as bacteria, viruses, and cells that become cancerous.
Everyone has small cancers, but the immune system rejects them, but prolonged stress may lead to elevated levels of corticosteroids and lower levels of norepinephrine in the brain (Moreno-Smith, Lutgendorf and Sood 2). Corticosteroids released into the body during the response to stress dampen and reduce the activity of the immune system, an effect called immunosuppression. Seal argues that when the immune system actively copes with stress, the changes to the immune system are minimized, but when these hormones bring changes, it makes it hard for the immune system to reject cancer cells (20). This causes the bodyb to react with helplessness and depression and maximizes the changes in the immune system
Moreover, there is also a correlation among stress, cancer and the immune system. When a person is diagnosed with cancer, the initial reaction is anger, panic and depression. All these are emotions that cause the activation of stress response and momentarily causes the retardation of the immune system. The attitude and response toward being diagnosed with cancer may influence the subsequent spread and fatality of the illness. Patients who positively or negatively express the effects of the disease may have a higher chance of surviving than those who withhold their emotions (Pastorino and Doyle-Portillo 437).
Similarly, when cancer patients live optimistically and have the determination to beat the disease, they may outlive those with less positive attitude because they have less stress and the disease develops slowly. This is because stress may influence the rate at which cancer cells grow thus less stress is associated with slow disease progression (Pastorino and Doyle-Portillo 437). On the contrary, the functioning of the immune system is affected by stress hence operates at reduced levels thus it is less available to fight the cancer cells. This leads to a faster progression of the disease. The examination of the connection between stress and cancer is based on the attitude of the patient pertaining the development of the disease and the reception of the cancer treatment. The onset, magnitude and the course of cancer in patients are influenced by variables which include time of detection, treatment options available, type of cancer, and the genes of the patient.
There is a connection between the etiology of cancer and personality types because psychological factors affect cancer progression and etiology. Soung, Nak Kyun and Bo Yeon Kim note that there is a potential connection between stress and tumor cell development because noradrenaline promotes the metastatic process as it acts on the b-adrenergic receptor-cyclic AMP protein kinase (3). This offers a pathway in ovarian cancer cell lines, which is possibly antagonized by a beta blocker. Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) plays a role in the initiation, survival and the growth of tumors by enhancing lymphocyte apoptosis, survival genes that defend cancer cells from chemotherapy effects, immune responses to tumors, and oncogenic viruses. This happens because stressful experiences in life, depression and other psychiatric disorders influence the disruption of HPA circadian rhythms, and promotes stress-related changes in immunological and hormonal circadian rhythms which plays a role in the progression of cancer (Soung, Nak Kyun and Bo Yeon Kim 3). Abnormality in circadian rhythms is seen in individuals with high risk for breast cancer and the prediction of cancer outcomes, and a decrease in the activity and the number of natural killer (NK) cells. HPA alterations arise because of stress-related causes such as marital disruptions, poor sleep, and circadian clock genes mutations that are known to increase the risk for the development of cancer and low survival rates among cancer patients.
Moreover, the progression of tumors and metastasis is connected with stress through inflammatory cells which include neutrophils and macrophages. These cells are found along and within the margin of invasive and metastatic tumors. They produce pro-inflammatory cytokines, pro-angiogenic factors, and pro-invasive matrix degrading enzymes such as matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). When the body is exposed to stressors or stress hormones, it enhances MMPs production which promotes both distant and local spread of tumors and interleukin 6 (IL-6) which indicates the immune changes in body tissues by cancer cells. There is an increased secretion of plasma IL-6 as the body responds to stress thus stressed primed cells secrete cytokines that modulate cancer and increases the capacity for migration and survival of cancer cells. Additionally, stress induces the activation of HPA and the resultant alteration of the immune system which leads to cancer morbidity and mortality. This activation enhances inflammatory mediators and immune cells in the microenvironment of tumors, increased growth, enhanced angiogenesis, invasion and increased migration of tumor cells.
Over the last couple of years, many studies have continued to give an association between stressful emotions and the development and the progression of cancer. For instance, the frequent feeling of helplessness, hopelessness, unusual feeling of dislike, loss of a meaningful emotional relationship, and inability to express anger are the characteristics of individuals prone to cancer (Kassin et al. 589). Furthermore, Paulson notes that there exists a connection between cancer and stressful changes in life such as the loss of significant emotional relationships, divorce and death of a spouse because windowed and divorced people die at a faster rate with cancer being one of the lead cause of these deaths (24). Stress causes depression of the immune system and hence predisposes one to cancer because the defense system of the body slows down.
Finally, studies have found that when mice with ovarian cancer are subjected to stress, tumors grow and spread faster because there is a connection in the mind and body in cancer progression and its promotion in the body (n.p.). This is because hormones that bind directly to tumor cells receptors stimulate the growth of new blood vessels which enhances blood supply hence promotes the aggressiveness of tumors. Hall notes that patients with ovarian cancer and report exceptionally stressful conditions have higher catecholamines levels as compared to patients with the same diagnosis and lower stress levels (n.p.). When stressed, there are several events initiated by the brain which has an impact on the ability of the body to heal because the defense mechanism is impaired hence damage of free radicals as a result of high-stress hormones circulating in the body.
The common treatment options for cancer treatment include surgery, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. These treatment options are useful in counteracting this disease. For instance, stem cell therapy helps in the restoration of blood-forming stem cells destroyed by radiation therapy or chemotherapy used in treating some types of cancers. The National Cancer Institute notes that stem cells are injected into the body through the vein and enter the bloodstream and into the bone marrow where they replace the cells damaged by treatment (n.p.). These stem cells are obtained from the bloodstream, bone marrow or the umbilical cord.
Radiation therapy involves the use of high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells by destroying their DNA. Schwachter and Josette note that radiation therapy damages the cancer cells, as well as the normal cells, therefore, the doctor, should carefully plan to minimize the side effects (64). Chemotherapy involves the use of anticancer drugs in killing the cancer cells. These drugs travel through the bloodstream and may hamper the normal as well as the cancerous cells in the body depending on the dose and the specific drugs used in the treatment. There are side effects such as diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea, hair loss and mouth sores as well as skin rashes. The doctor sometimes uses this treatment option with the intention of curing cancer either through the prevention of cancer resurgence, elimination of tumors or both. In such cases, radiation therapy can be used alone or combined with chemotherapy, surgery or both (Philpott 125).
Stress-reduction strategies increa...
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