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Stress increases cancer risk

What science tells us

Short-term or acute stress, such as stress you might feel before giving a speech, tends to go away soon after the stressful event. Long-term or chronic stress, however, is more damaging.

Chronic stress can weaken your immune system and increase your blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels. Chronic stress may also leave you prone to diseases such as cancer, digestive problems, and depression (MD Anderson). In addition, people under stress may develop unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, overeating, or drinking alcohol, all of which are known cancer risk factors (NCI).

Stress hormones can also inhibit a process called anoikis, which kills diseased cells and prevents them from spreading. This can decrease the body’s natural ability to combat cancer growth (MD Anderson).

How to reduce your risk

If you can’t remove the source of your stress, work toward learning to manage it. Some methods for reducing stress are talking to a professional, practicing yoga or meditation, engaging in art or music therapy, hiking, and getting a massage (MD Anderson). Get an essential 8 or more hours of sleep each night. A full night of sleep is essential for proper immune function, and it also affects mood, memory, and ability to focus.

Bottom line

Chronic stress makes an individual more susceptible to cancer and other diseases. There are many methods available to help reduce stress (such as yoga, meditation, and exercise); it’s important to find methods that work for you.

MD Anderson: Stress and cancer
MD Anderson: Cutting stress
National Cancer Institute (NCI): Psychological stress and cancer


June 30, 2021
Verified/updated: January 26, 2022