The Physical and Emotional Stress of Cancer

The Physical and Emotional Stress of Cancer
The Physical and Emotional Stress of Cancer

Have you just been diagnosed with cancer?

Or are you a cancer survivor worried about your cancer coming back?

Stress can wreak havoc on both the body and the mind. Scientists are starting to understand how long-term stress may affect the body’s ability to regulate inflammation.1

And since inflammation and cancer are linked, how stress may potentially affect cancer, too.

Fight or Flight: How the Body Responds to Stress

When under a perceived threat, whether a noise in your home at night, work deadlines, or a new cancer diagnosis, the body responds within seconds by releasing stress hormones,2 such as adrenaline noradrenaline, and cortisol.

This causes your heart rate to speed up, and blood pressure and blood sugar levels to rise.

This response is an adaptation for your body to react with speed and strength to help escape the perceived threat, the so called “fight or flight” response.

Does Stress Cause Cancer?

Usually, this stress response is self-limiting, meaning that the hormone levels along with heart rate, blood pressure and sugar levels almost immediately return to normal.

But when we are chronically stressed, the stress response does not always switch off.

From a physical perspective, a stress response that does not turn off may worsen inflammation.3

Part of a normal immune response, inflammation is a natural physiological response and a necessary part of stimulating the body’s natural healing processes.

The trouble is that chronic, long-term inflammation can activate the body’s immune system3 which causes unnecessary damage to the body’s cells.

This is why it is possible that being in a constant state of stress, related to inflammation, is a risk factor for cancer and its progression.

Chronic stress and inflammation can therefore create the perfect storm for cancerous cells can grow and flourish.

Though stress may cause a number of physical health problems, the evidence that it can directly cause cancer is weak.4 .

Psychologically,4 there may be an indirect link however between stress and increased cancer risk.

For example, those who are stressed may display poor health behaviours, such as smoking or drinking a lot.5

Your nutrition may take a back seat as you eat too little fruit and veggies6 and too much sugary drinks,7 all as a way to try to cope with the stress.

It is a combination of these factors, with others like little exercise8 and being overweight,9 that may together increase our cancer risk.

It is believed that only 5 – 10% of all cancers have a genetic link,10 which means the large majority of the cause of cancer is indirectly linked to our environment and lifestyles.

Coping with Stress

The good news is that there is a lot of emotional and social support to help you learn to cope with stress.

Such support may help reduce feelings of loneliness and anxiety, and even symptoms from cancer treatments. Here are some ideas:4

  • Consult with a psychologist to help teach you healthy ways to deal with stress.
  • Learn relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga.
  • Find social support from cancer communities, whether in person or on social media platforms.
  • Take part in cancer education sessions with healthcare provides.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Aim for at least 7 – 8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Reach out to a psychologist or psychiatrist should you need medications to help manage anxiety and depression related to stress.

The FitChef Difference

Our hope is that FitChef’s ready-to-eat meals mean food is one less thing you have to worry about it.

FitChef meals and snacks are convenient and freezer-friendly, and also nutritionally-balanced to help support all your nutrition needs.

And to make your life even more stress-free, we’ve put together a convenient FitChef Anti-Inflammatory Kit based on the key anti-inflammatory eating principles, as guided by scientific evidence, so you can take care your health and worry about food in one simple step.

References

  1. Cohen S, Janicki-Deverts D, Doyle WJ, Miller GE, Frank E, Rabi BS et al. Chronic stress, glucocorticoid receptor resistance, inflammation, and disease risk. PNAS. 2012. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1118355109.
  2. Connor DB, Thayer JF, Vedhara K. Stress, and health: a review of psychobiological processes. Annual Review of Psychology. 2021;72:663-88.
  3. Mantovani A. The inflammation-cancer connection. FEBS Journal. 2018. 285:4. https://doi.org/10.1111/febs.14395.
  4. National Cancer Institute. Psychological Stress and Cancer – Fact Sheet. Accessed on 01 August 2021. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/coping/feelings/stress-fact-sheet.
  5. Word Cancer Research Fund/ American Institute for Cancer Research Continuous Update Project Export Report 2018. Alcoholic drinks and the risk of cancer. Available at https://www.wcrf.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Alcoholic-Drinks.pdf.
  6. Word Cancer Research Fund/ American Institute for Cancer Research Continuous Update Project Export Report 2018. Wholegrains, vegetables and fruit and the risk of cancer. Available at https://www.wcrf.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Wholegrains-veg-and-fruit.pdf.
  7. World Cancer Research Fund. Preventing Cancer. Cancer prevention recommendations- Limit sugar-sweetened drinks. Accessed 2 July 2021. Available from: https://www.wcrf-uk.org/uk/preventing-cancer/cancer-prevention-recommendations/limit-sugar-sweetened-drinks.
  8. Word Cancer Research Fund/ American Institute for Cancer Research Continuous Update Project Export Report 2018. Physical Activity and the Risk of Cancer. Available at: https://www.wcrf.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Physical-activity.pdf.
  9. Word Cancer Research Fund/ American Institute for Cancer Research Continuous Update Project Export Report 2018. Body Fatness and Weight Gain and the Risk of Cancer. Available at: https://www.wcrf.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Body-fatness-and-weight-gain_0.pdf.
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