Researchers at Fox Chase Cancer Center have recently shed some light on the mechanisms behind the ability of mental stress to exacerbate tumor growth.
The team noted that the link between stress and poor physiological health – including cancer prognosis – has long been established. But recently, they found that psychological factors can lead to an increase in vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) expression – a protein that is known to promote tumor proliferation.
When examining the mental and physical health of 37 individuals who had just been diagnosed with head or neck cancer, the researchers found that those with the most stress had the least chance of survival.
“Our analysis indicated that higher levels of perceived stress and depressive symptoms were associated with greater VEGF expression in the tumor tissue of these patients,” said co-author Caroline Fang.
Authors said that stress management techniques may be most helpful in patients who are in early stages of the disease, when psychosocial intervention was shown to be most effective.
Results of the study suggest that hospitals and cancer centers may want to consider stress-relieving tools not just for doctors and nurses, but for patients, too.