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
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
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

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

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?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London