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The link between stress and cancer
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Adults have an issue with stress. According to a survey from the American Psychological Association released in December 2022, more than one in four Americans indicated they expected to experience more stress at the start of 2023 than they had at the start of 2022. And it's not just Americans feeling the sting of stress, as the American Institute of Stress indicates 35 percent of individuals across 143 countries feel stressed out.

Stress is not always a bad thing. Roughly a decade ago, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, discovered that acute stress in rats caused the stem cells in their brain to grow rapidly into new nerve cells that ultimately improved the animals' mental performance. However, chronic stress, which the APA characterizes as constant and persistent stress over an extended period of time, can have a profoundly negative effect on overall health. And that negative effect includes a link to cancer, especially for survivors of the disease.

A 2020 study from researchers at The Wistar Institute Cancer Center in Philadelphia found that a stress hormone triggered a reaction in immune cells that awakened dormant cancer cells. Those cells eventually formed into tumors.

W hen discussing the link between stress and cancer, it's important to note that many studies, including the one conducted by researchers at the Wistar Institute, have shown that stress and cancer can cause the disease to grow and spread in mice. The National Cancer Institute notes that studies have not identified a clear link between stress and cancer outcomes in humans. But researchers urge patience, noting that the Wistar Institute study is a significant step forward in studying the potential link between stress and cancer in humans. Further study in the coming years could very well identify a similar link in humans as the one already discovered in mice.

In the meantime, individuals are urged to take stress seriously and not simply accept it as a mere fact of twenty-first century life. And that's especially important for individuals who have been diagnosed with cancer, including those who are in treatment and others who have successfully finished their treatment. According to City of Hope, one of just 52 NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers in the United States, talking to others and relying on loved ones when receiving treatment; speaking with someone in a neutral position, such as a therapist; and exercising regularly are some of the ways to overcome chronic stress. City of Hope also notes the stress-reducing benefits of wellness practices such as meditation and yoga in regard to combatting stress.

Chronic stress can have a lasting and negative impact on overall health. Though the link between chronic stress and cancer requires more study before researchers can reach a conclusion about such a connection, individuals are urged to embrace the many ways they can reduce chronic stress with a goal of living healthier, happier and, hopefully, cancer-free lives.

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