Stress may double risk of breast cancer, study shows

Stress caused by conflicts at home or work may increase the risk of breast cancer, scientists said yesterday.

A 24-year study of women in Sweden, which began in the late 1960s, has shown that those who reported high levels of stress at the start - including tension, fear, anxiety and sleeplessness - were twice as likely to develop breast cancer as those with low levels of stress.

But the study's lead author, Osten Helgesson, warned that the findings were not definitive and that women should not blame themselves for their cancer - a common problem among patients with the disease. The results were presented to the European Cancer Conference in Copenhagen yesterday.

The researchers from the Sahlgrenska Academy in Sweden interviewed 1,350 healthy women in 1968 and asked them if they had suffered stress for a month or longer in the previous five years. Over the next two and a half decades they found that of 456 women who had experienced stress, 24 (5.3 per cent) developed breast cancer. Of 894 women who said they suffered no stress, 23 (2.5 per cent) developed breast cancer.

Scientists have examined the link between stress and cancer for more than a decade. Despite a series of studies, no clear findings have emerged. Dr Helgesson, a GP from Gothenburg in Sweden and a doctoral student at the Sahlgrenska Academy, said he believed his study was a stepping stone on the way to establishing whether stress could predict cancer.

If so, women suffering from stress could be selected for preventive treatment or early detection such as screening.

Dr Helgesson said: "Although our study does show a significant association between stress and breast cancer, I would emphasis that more research needs to be carried out before it can be said that stress definitely increases a risk.

"Ours is one of only a very small number of prospective studies, and although our findings are significant, more and larger prospective studies need to be done."

The women in the study were interviewed in 1968 and asked whether they had experienced stress for a month or longer in the previous five years. They had follow-up examinations in 1974-75, 1980-81 and 1992-93, but they were not asked about stress again. The study therefore relates to stress that they experienced during one period of their lives in the mid-1960s.

Dr Helgesson told the conference that the findings had taken account of differences such as weight, smoking, drinking, family history and whether the women had children, all of which are known to affect the risk of breast cancer.

Britain's leading expert on stress and cancer, Professor Amanda Ramirez of Guy's and St Thomas' Hospitals, London, who has studied the relationship between the two for more than a decade, said recent research had failed to show a link.

"This study stands on its own. Its methodology is questionable and it is out of step."

'I developed disease after suffering panic attacks'

When Mary Morrissey was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999 at the age of 40, her first thought was that stress must be the cause. "I had six sisters and a mother who were all alive and none had cancer. So there was no family history. I had breastfed my children and been active all my life. I thought it had to be stress," she said.

She had good reason for thinking so. Ten years earlier she had gone through an acrimonious divorce, which included a custody battle for her three children. It was a traumatic time. "Someone told me it takes ten years for a cancer to develop - I was divorced in 1990 and diagnosed in 1999," she said. "I do think that was the reason for my cancer. I suffered panic attacks and my stress levels were very high. After the divorce I was on my own for 10 years with the three children, doing a full-time degree and working seven days a week."

Today, Ms Morrissey is free of the disease. She still takes drugs for the cancer but has suffered no side-effects. She walks 30 miles a week and has lost 24kg (53lb) since her treatment was completed.

She has more energy now, she said, and she takes care to avoid stress. "I have learnt a great deal in the last decade or so," she said. "I won't allow things to upset me. I go to the gym and to meditation classes to keep my head in order because if you don't do that everything else falls apart. But I feel very well."

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Behaviour Support Assistant (BSA)

(?19,817 ? ?21,734)Pro Rata: Randstad Education Leeds: Behaviour Support Assis...

HE Dyslexia Tutor/Study Skills Tutor P/T

£21 - £22 per hour: Randstad Education Leeds: Randstad Education has been help...

Newly Qualified Teachers

£90 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently seeking dy...

IT & Business Studies Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: ICT & Business Studies Teacher f...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?