The Role of Stress in Illness

New research from Trinity College Dublin indicates that when a particular stress response is blocked (by drugs) the spread (metastasis) of breast cancer can be significantly reduced.

 Health Research Board Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr Ian Barron from the University’s Pharmacology and Therapeutic department conducted the research.

The study focused on a group of women in Ireland who were diagnosed with breast cancer between 2000 and 2007 and found that the women who took drugs that blocked a particular hormone-related stress pathway had a decreased risk of dying from the cancer.

When compared to the control group, women taking the drugs in the year prior to diagnosis were less likely to develop metastatic or invasive breast cancer. The same group, who continued to take the drug after diagnosis, was also less likely to die from cancer in the following 5 years after their diagnosis.
Dr Barron has said:

“For patients with cancer, higher levels of stress are associated with more frequent disease recurrence, faster disease progression and higher rates of death from cancer.

“Some lab-based studies have suggested how stress hormones, such as adrenaline and noradrenalin, could play a role in this process. Ours is the first study in humans to show that blocking this stress response significantly reduces the risk of cancer spreading or metastasizing. Because the majority of all cancer deaths are due to the growth of tumor metastases, this research could have significant implications for clinical practice.”

This research is interesting because once again it confirms what those who are interested in the field of Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) have been aware of for some time. That stress and the immune system are linked. Chronic stress can be a precursor to illness.

Our emotions, the way we cope with stress and how we ‘feel’ does have an effect on the physiological condition of the body.

I am all for medical developments and the use of stress pathway blocking drugs could mean exciting progress in the treatment of cancer. I also feel that this study will help to open up the discussion about the link between stress, emotional trauma and cancer.

We know that it’s possible to block this hormone related stress pathway with drugs but can we do so with the mind alone? This is an exciting prospect that can change the way we treat this disease.

Imagine a treatment facility that fully integrates mind medicine with conventional medicine, and I mean more than just the common “Relaxotherapy” offered today.

This kind of integration where patients are cared for by a team of practitioner is sure to benefit the patient. It remains to be seen when this kind of care will be offered, my belief is that it’s only a matter of time.

In the meantime many coping with cancer are already taking responsibility for their well being by working with their own private practitioners.

If you integrate your conventional treatment with other complimentary or alternative treatments please share?