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Daily Stress May Raise Women's Risk of Cervical Cancer
Date:2/15/2008

Researchers find chronic worry impairs immune response to cancer-causing virus

FRIDAY, Feb. 15 (HealthDay News) -- High levels of daily stress could explain why some women infected with malignancy-linked types of human papillomavirus (HPV) develop cervical cancer, a new study suggests.

Scientists at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia tested 74 women, all diagnosed with cervical dysplasia (precancerous cervical lesions), for an immune response to HPV 16, one of the strains of human papillomavirus thought to be a major cause of cervical cancer. The women also completed a questionnaire that assessed stressful life events experienced during the previous six months -- including deaths of family members, loss of a job or divorce -- as well as their perceived daily stress level over the previous month.

The research, published in the February issue of Annals of Behavioral Medicine, found that slightly more than 55 percent of the women tested positive for one or more types of HPV, a sexually transmitted infection that can cause genital warts as well as cancer.

"We observed that stress was associated with deficits in immune response to HPV 16," said Carolyn Y. Fang, the study's lead investigator.

Most HPV infections in healthy women disappear over time without progressing to precancerous cervical lesions or cancer. "That means HPV infection alone is not sufficient to cause cervical cancer," Fang said. "Our study suggests a potential mechanism by which stress may influence cervical disease progression.

"We were surprised to discover no significant association between the occurrence of major stressful life events and immune response to HPV 16, possibly because of the amount of time that had passed since the event and how the women coped," she added. "However, women with higher perceived levels of daily stress were more likely to have an impaired immune response."

HPV expert Dr. Kevi
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