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Is there a relationship between stress and a breast cancer diagnosis?

anxiety breast cancer breast cancer survivors breast cancer talk cancer cancer diagnosis chronic stress cortisol depression epinephrine mindset stress stress and breast cancer Apr 05, 2021

April happens to be Stress Management Month and we no one is immune to it. Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis is full of stress, not to mention the under lying thought of a possible reoccurrence. Then, let's add on the past year of being quarantined due to COVID-19 global pandemic which caused more stress and uncertainty. Perhaps you needed to adjust to working from home rather than the office, adjust to kids being home schooled or maybe you lost your job or a loved one during this time.

So often I hear the question, did my stress leave cause my cancer or is my stressful life putting me at greater risk for an initial or reoccurring diagnosis?

We know that stress can cause or aggravate additional health problems and I think of it as being similar to the sugar and cancer question. There is no evidence that sugar directly causes the cancer, but it is a contributing factor, due to obesity and other chronic diseases. With stress, your body is reacting negatively to a certain situation or circumstance, putting you into the fight or flight response. It's the general adaptation syndrome we use to deal with stress. But what is happening internally to your body is you releasing the hormone epinephrine and cortisol into your body 24 hours a day, which makes your heart beat faster which leads to the production of glucose which tells your body to run on stress. We are only meant to make epinephrine under acute stress, for example, an epi pen injection in a life threatening situation.

So how does this affect cancer? Chronic stress activates part of our sympathetic nervous system, which has been shown to contribute to malignancy. Chronic stress releases the hormone cortisol, which typically should only be released in the morning to tell your body, "let's go" and  should drop when it's time for bed. But, when you have cortisol running through your body 24/7, that is going to contribute to adrenal dysfunction, which causes sleep abnormalities. As mentioned in a previous blog post and podcast episode, sleep is also important to help avoid a cancer or many other health issues.

Here are 5 ways you can start to manage your stress levels:

1. Take a daily walk

2. Do some adult coloring or artwork (it has a meditative effect)

3. Reassess and prioritize your to-do list

4. Eat a balanced diet & exercise daily

5. Remove the things in your life that cause you stress (activities and/or people)

If you need help with stress management, I am only an email away. [email protected]

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