What contributes to stress?
Stress is our response to challenging situations in our lives. You may need to identify whether stress is a big actor in your life now. If you think stress is affecting your health and well-being, consider making Managing your stress response › a high priority in your integrative cancer care plan.
Common stressors among people with cancer and their caregivers
We recognize cancer introduces scenarios and environment that are stressful for many people with cancer and their caregivers:
- The cancer diagnosis
- Financial burdens from treatments, travel, and caregiving
- Loss of income due to illness
- Uncertainty regarding your job, medical insurance, housing, child care, and life logistics
- Schedule disruptions
- Disruptions daily routines such eating, sleeping, school, and recreation
- Changes in family member roles
- Pain, anxiety, fatigue, grief, nausea and vomiting, and other symptoms related to the diagnosis and treatment
- Feelings of isolation
- Changes in physical appearance
- Worry about suffering, dying, and loved ones
- Bereavement after the death of a loved one
Other contributors to stress
- Poor sleep quality
- Stimulants such as ephedra, ginseng, and bitter orange can increase your stress response.
Can stress cause cancer?
CancerChoices Senior Clinical Consultant Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS: People sometimes ask, “Did stress cause my cancer?” Stress alone did not cause your cancer. However, we know that the chemicals released in the stress response can speed up tumor growth. For instance, these stress-response chemicals can promote conditions such as insulin resistance, which change the tumor microenvironment and impact your body’s ability to stay healthy as you are going through treatment. We review the research in What does the evidence show? Your stress is not responsible for your cancer diagnosis. But mitigating your stress can help your body be as healthy as possible to give you the best outcome.
Psychiatrist David Servan-Schreiber explains: “It usually takes anywhere from five to forty years for the ‘seed’ of cancer in the form of a cellular anomaly to become a detectable cancerous tumor … No psychological factor by itself has ever been identified as being capable of creating that cancer seed … However, certain reactions to psychological stress can profoundly influence the soil in which the seed develops… The factors contributing to cancer are so numerous and varied that no one should ever blame themselves or feel guilty for developing this disease … However, anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer has the opportunity to learn to live differently, with the likely benefit of aiding in recovery.”1Servan-Schreiber D. Anticancer: A New Way of Life. New York: Penguin Group. 2008.
Cancer as a predictor of distress
Among women with breast cancer, these situations are predictors of higher levels of distressemotional, social, spiritual, or physical pain or suffering that may cause a person to feel sad, afraid, depressed, anxious, or lonely; people in distress may also feel that they are not able to manage or cope with changes caused by normal life activities or by having a disease, such as cancer:2Syrowatka A, Motulsky A et al. Predictors of distress in female breast cancer survivors: a systematic review. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment. 2017 Sep;165(2):229-245.
- Advanced cancer at diagnosis
- Treatment with chemotherapy
- Longer primary treatment duration
- Recent transition from active treatment to “cancer survivor”
- Breast cancer recurrence
Similar situations are likely predictors of distress and other symptoms among many people cancer, although we don’t have research specifically showing this yet.
|1||Servan-Schreiber D. Anticancer: A New Way of Life. New York: Penguin Group. 2008.|
|2||Syrowatka A, Motulsky A et al. Predictors of distress in female breast cancer survivors: a systematic review. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment. 2017 Sep;165(2):229-245.|