Stress reduction therapy is crucial for anyone who is battling cancer, a study revealed.
Diagnosis is one of the most stressful times for cancer patients because they are hearing the bad news about their condition for the first time.
But stress hormones throughout treatment can prevent the cancerous cells in the body from dividing and reacting.
While it might sound good that the cancer cells are not dividing, it is not.
Instead, the hormones shield the growing tumors from being treated by the cancer drugs that are administered in the patient’s body.
Experts said stress reduction therapy is necessary in treating people with cancer to help promote the success of the drugs and treatment methods.
Researchers from the University of Brighton in Brighton, England, studied the effects of stress on the body when a patient is getting cancer treatment.
Dr Melanie Flint, lead researcher, looked at the chemotherapy drug used to treat breast cancer to see how it reacted with stress hormones.
‘A diagnosis of breast cancer is a cause of a great deal of stress, which in itself is a significant reason for stress management to be considered early on,’ Dr Flint said.
Her research suggests that stress reduces the effectiveness of the chemotherapy drug and could impair other cancer treatments.
‘We know reducing stress improves psychological well-being, but our findings give us the idea that this elevation in stress hormones, or perhaps changes in receptors that stress hormones bind to, may affect patients’ responses to chemotherapies,’ Dr Flint said.
Many chemotherapy agents, including paclitaxel which is used to treat both breast and ovarian cancer, specifically target rapidly dividing cells.
Dr Flint’s team found that breast cancer cells exposed to stress hormones such as cortisol and norepinephrine generate destructive DNA-damaging molecules called free radicals.
This causes the cells temporarily to halt their relentless cell division as DNA repair mechanisms kick in.
But while halting cancer cell division may sound like good news, it actually shields the tumors from the lethal effects of paclitaxel.
‘What I would like to see is that every patient diagnosed with cancer has their stress recognized and their options talked through, and an offer of stress reduction,’ Dr Flint said.
Another finding was that stressed mice with breast cancer produced higher levels of a nitric oxide-generating enzyme (iNOS) in their tumors.
Greater iNOS activity has been linked to higher grade, more aggressive breast cancer.
Dr Flint is now moving the research out of the laboratory to investigate the impact of stress on patients undergoing treatment.
She said it was too early to discuss the new findings but added: ‘We are seeing effects.’
Drugs that counteract stress hormones, such as beta-blockers, may prove helpful to cancer patients as well as calming practices such as mindfulness, meditation and yoga, she pointed out.
Colleague Dr Val Jenkins, from the University of Sussex, said: ‘Combining the expertise of laboratory-based scientists with that of psycho-oncologists in an innovative area of research is likely to produce tangible benefits for patients receiving cancer treatments.’