Chronic stress accelerates cancer growth in mice, according to a paper published in Nature Communications this week. The finding points to potential treatment targets to slow the progression of cancer to other organs.
The paper revealed findings from several studies, mostly on mice, conducted by a team of researchers from Monash University.
Chronic stress refers to prolonged, repeated exposure to stressful situations, such as caring for a sick relative for a long period of time. To mimic the way people feel under significant stress, researchers restrained mice with breast cancer tumours, to make them feel like they couldn’t cope with their circumstances.
Over time, the mice developed an increase in the number and size of of their lymphatic vessels – a network of vessels that transports fluid around the body. This enhanced the spread of cancer cells to new sites, a process called cancer progression or metastasis.
By blocking the activity of proteins that detect stress, or those that enhance the formation of lymphatic vessels, researchers found they could reduce the spread of cancer cells in the mice.
What stress does to the body
The research focused on metastasis of breast cancer to other parts of the body, building on previous findings that neurological stress hinders our defence against disease.
Previous findings from human studies have shown poorer cancer survival in people exposed to stressful life experiences and those more prone to stress.