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Treating stress crucial in cancer fight

04 September 2017 08:46

Treating stress effectively is key to cancer diagnosis

Treating stress effectively is key to cancer diagnosis

Every cancer diagnosis should involve a discussion about stress, according to an expert investigating the biological impact of "fight-or-flight" responses.

The effectiveness of a common chemotherapy drug used to treat breast cancer is reduced by stress, Dr Melanie Flint says.

Other cancer treatments may also be impaired by the action of stress hormones, her research leads her to believe.

A stressful time

Diagnosis is one of the most stressful times for cancer patients as they hear the bad news about their condition for the first time.

Dr Flint, whose work at the University of Brighton has focused on breast cancer, said: "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.

"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.

"What I would like to see is that every patient diagnosed with cancer has their stress recognised and their options talked through, and an offer of stress reduction."

Beta-blockers may help cancer patients

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 tumours from the lethal effects of paclitaxel.

Drugs that counteract stress hormones, such as beta-blockers, may prove helpful to cancer patients as well as calming practises such as mindfulness, meditation and yoga, she pointed out.

With awareness of the importance of reducing stress increasing, cancer patients are reminded they can enjoy a holiday with peace of mind, thanks to travel insurance for pre-existing medial conditions.