Is There a Link Between Stress and Breast Cancer
By: Courtney Floyd
It was once suspected that high levels of stress or traumatic life events could cause breast cancer. However, a recent study performed at the Institute of Cancer Research shows otherwise. The study followed over 100,000 healthy women for over 40 years. Individuals in the study were asked about how often they felt stressed and if they had experienced any traumatic life events such as divorce or loss of a loved one throughout the course of the study. Participants were also asked about other demographics such as the age of their first menstrual cycle, weight, alcohol use, etc. In the end, the study concluded it is unlikely that stress causes breast cancer.
These findings are truly significant, but it is important to keep in mind that stress itself can lead to other health problems that have been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer.
Stress can disrupt nearly every system in our bodies. It can lower our immune system, raise blood pressure, and even make us age more quickly! Yikes! But it can also trigger poor health choices such as drinking. It is known that drinking alcohol is linked to an increased risk for developing breast cancer and the risk goes up the more alcohol is consumed. Our weight can also fluctuate during periods of high stress. Being overweight or obese (especially after menopause) can increase your risk of breast cancer as well.
So what is the takeaway?
During times of high level stress, it is important to be aware of lifestyle choices you are making. Instead of reaching for that glass of wine (or two) when you get home from a terrible day at work, why not go for a walk or a light jog around the neighborhood? Did you know a study from the Women’s Health Initiative showed as little as 90 minutes of brisk walking a week could reduce a woman’s risk of breast cancer by 18%! That’s amazing! I also know when I get overwhelmed I tend to reach for that extra cookie in the break room or I order a large extra cheesy pizza instead of making a healthy nutritious dinner. Overtime this can significantly affect the waistline!
Now I’m not saying we can’t treat ourselves to some of these treats in moderation, but it is important to be conscious of what we put in our bodies—especially when we are going through periods where we feel overwhelmed.
The study by the Institute of Cancer Research is remarkable in showing that stress itself does not cause breast cancer, but be sure to take care of yourself when you are feeling the extra pressure.