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Stress and Anxiety Affect Prostate Cancer Treatment

stress, prostate cancer, stress management

A cancer diagnosis understandably brings about feelings of stress and anxiety. However, uncontrolled or prolonged stress can affect a patient’s outcome when it comes to curing the disease. A new study finds that stress can negatively affect treatments being used for prostate cancer.

Psychological stress describes how people feel emotionally when they are under pressure. But the effects do not stop in the brain. The body responds to this pressure by releasing hormones such as epinephrine and norepinephrine that increase blood pressure, speed heart rate and raise blood sugar levels. There is also evidence that stress during cancer can shorten the length of telomeres, the ends of chromosomes that deteriorate with aging which is linked to a shorter lifespan.

There is not currently evidence that stress causes cancer, says the National Cancer Institute, but not controlling stress can affect quality of life in cancer patients. There is also animal research that shows that behavioral stress promotes tumor progression. A new study finds that it may also negatively affect the treatments being used in prostate cancer patients.

Researchers at Wake Forest University examined mouse models with prostate cancer that had been subjected to stress. The team measured levels of apoptosis – cell cancer death – as a result of the medical treatment given to reduce tumors. When compared to mice that were unstressed, the stressed mice exhibited a significantly reduced response to the drug. Chemically induced stress via injection with adrenaline (epinephrine) also blocked cancer cell death.

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The authors note that men with prostate cancer seem to be affected by their diagnosis more than other cancer patients, exhibiting higher levels of anxiety. Levels of PSA also have been observed to increase in patients under behavioral stress.

Drugs that block the effects of adrenaline, such as beta-blockers (used for the treatment of high blood pressure), appeared to reduce the risk of prostate cancer by 18% indicating that this medication could be useful to increase the effectiveness of anti-cancer therapies.

Emotional and social support can also help cancer patients cope with psychological stress. Approaches can include relaxation training, meditation, counseling, support groups, anti-depression/anti-anxiety medications, or exercise, including mind-body techniques such as yoga or tai chi.

Lorenzo Cohen, professor of general oncology and director of the Integrative Medicine Program at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (not involved with the current study), says that “We certainly know how (stress management techniques) improves a patient’s quality of life. Now we need to do more research to see if (it) can also prolong survival.”

Journal References:
Sazzad Hassan et al. Behavioral stress accelerates prostate cancer development in mice. J Clin Invest. Published January 25, 2013 doi:10.1172/JCI63324.
Archana S. Nagaraja et al. Why stress is BAD for cancer patients. J Clin Invest. 2013;123(2):558–560. doi:10.1172/JCI67887.