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Study Suggests Link Between Stress and Aggressive Breast Cancer
Date:9/23/2011

tumors? Or did both appear at the same time?

"If we'd interviewed these women one year or five years or 10 years prior to diagnosis, would these same women have reported greater levels of stress than their counterparts in the study?" he asked. "It's fairly reasonable to assume there's a correlation in the level of stress they report after diagnosis and what they reported prior to that, but we don't have any data to say that's true."

However, Rauscher said the new research is consistent with previous findings from studies in rodents. Those studies found that severe stress and social isolation boosted the risk of breast cancer, he noted.

The study was to be presented this week at the American Association for Cancer Research Conference on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities, in Washington D.C. The findings should be viewed as preliminary until they are published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

Dr. Laura Kruper, an assistant professor and cancer surgeon at City of Hope Cancer Center in Duarte, Calif., cautioned that the study doesn't allow any conclusions to be made about how stress is connected to more aggressive tumors. "To clearly show an association between higher stress levels and aggressiveness of breast cancer, patients would have to be followed for many years prior to diagnosis to see if patients with higher levels of stress developed more aggressive forms of cancer," she said.

Kruper said the idea that stress causes cancer is unproven, although it's possible. A cancer diagnosis can certainly cause stress, she said.

"Some patients need temporary anti-anxiety medications. Most only need the medications during a short time during their treatment," she said. "We often prescribe low-dose antidepressants, not only to help with mood, which can definitely be impacted by a breast cancer diagnosis, but also to help combat the side effects of the breast cancer treatments such as hot flashes."

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