Can stress cause cancer?

All difficulties experienced in day to day life always produce a response in the brain. When we go through a bad experience we feel bad, but in parallel to this, temporary or permanent changes occur in the activities and functions of specific areas of the brain. The physical response is in the form of changes in blood pressure, pulse, body temperature. But at the same time certain changes occur in the sympathetic system and in the concentration of the stress hormone cortisol in blood and tissues. These changes are accompanied by various other changes related to the immune system.

Cancer treatment and associated psychiatric problems

The side effects of chemotherapy, especially the loss of hair, can lead to serious psychological problems. The patient needs to be informed in advance about the side effects, the mechanisms of likely problems, whether the symptoms are reversible or not, and their duration. Discussing these issues with the patient minimises the risk of psychological problems.

Cancer and psychotherapy

The general aim in psychotherapy is to try and preserve the patient’s self respect. If this is achieved it will also be possible to reduce stress to a manageable level and preserve the patient’s image of Self. As a result the patient’s sense of control will improve and the anxiety level will drop.

Psychiatric symptoms in cancer patients

20-45 % of cancer patients suffer from depression, in 15-75% we encounter delirium. Other frequently reported conditions are those of acute stress disorder, anxiety disorder associated with the medical condition, post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder.

Psychology of the cancer patient

The main worries of a cancer patient can be summarised as a fear of death, a fear of being dependent on others, inadequacy, and disruption of social relationships.

Cancer and stress

In recent times thoughts on a link between stress and cancer are once again under serious review. The most important reason that led to a new review was the discovery in 1982 of a link between Helicobacter Pylori and peptic ulcer. With this discovery one of the significant examples for a link between stress and a physical illness was disproven. In 2005 it brought the Nobel price to the scientists (Barry J Marshall, J Robin Warren) who made the discovery. In the speech of the Nobel price it was emphasized that these two scientists had destroyed a dogma. (