Jump to content

lung cancer and stress

cindi o'h

Recommended Posts

Hello friends.

I am just wondering how much stress plays into the development of lung cancer.

I was in the most stressful year of my life before I was diagnosed. I was in a car accident and could not work for over 7 months. I had a closed spinal cord injury and was battling surgery or not, no income, pain, lack of any income, horrible side effects from medications, and a lousy lawyer for a lawsuit to try to help recover some of the financial damages. I have never felt so emotionally stressed in my life. And this carried over to the physical stress too, I know.

I had just been back to work for a few months when I was diagnosed with the lung cancer. I am not saying that it was not there before...but, I am wondering how much the stress may have played on the rapid progression of the illness.

Does anyone else have these ideas too?

Were there unusual stresses in your life before diagnosis?


Cindi o'h

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I was divorcing my husband who emptied our checking and savings accounts. Had to move me and my 3 kids out of our home and into an apartment which was $600.00 a month (cheap in my town). Put security depost and first months rent on my credit card the only thing I had in my name, started a new job but was barely surviving because he refused to pay my childsupport (and didn't for almost a year) even though I only made a whopping 825.00 a month. (that's all the kids and I had to live on) my family disowned me because they don't believe in divorce (to this day I have no real contact with them), but I think the worst for me physically was the fact that I gave plasma for a year and a half twice a week. I started when my ex and I started having problems because he said I was making enough to support the family.. when we split I did it to have food on the table. Otherwise we simply didn't have enough to eat let alone try to pay bills and stuff. Doing that twice a week just ruined my immune system. I really believe that--I was so wore out and sick. I lost weight, was dehydrated. That combined with the stress was just too much. One of the books I read while I wa ssick mentioned that "cancer" is just one of the things your body fights off on a regular day to day basis and it's a glitch in the immune system that lets it take hold. I absolutely believe that period of stress, fear and running my body down is what led to my diagnosis.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yep. I believe it.

I saw a therapist for a while after the surgery who was a MIND-BODY-SPIRIT kind of psychologist who firmly believed in the neuropsychoimmunology connection. She talked some about "toxic relationships"; I believe that if I had stayed married and had the ex for my caregiver I would not have survived.

If you think of a cancer cell as taking 5 to 7 "hits" to begin to grow, and one or two hits may be genetic, and one or two hits may be environmental, and stress plays a role, and good old random error (not even metabolism is 100%), it stands to reason stress would influence cancer, perhaps by leaving your immune system weak, perhaps by starting the cancer earlier than it would have started if you're not stressed.

One thing I have seen, and that is cancer, like traffic jams, are great equalizers. They happen to anyone, rich or poor, makes no difference.

My nickel's worth.


Prayers always,


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes, I truly believe that stress suppresses your immune system and your immune system is what keeps disease away, so it makes sense to me that cancer can become opportunistic and attack when your immune system is depressed.

I had a consult at an alternative and integrative medicine clinic last year and they did tons of bloodwork. One thing they tested was for certain components in the blood that indicated immune system function. They feel that is very important cancer patients to have really, strong immune systems. I take a supplement that is made of exotic mushrooms. I also was told by them that oats and onions help with immune system buildup.

Just my 2 cents, but yes, I agree.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think there are a lot of things that affect how we feel and our health, and there have been tons of studies about all that. I think we struggle to find answers though, and if we can identify things that may ward this off for someone else, it's definitely worth consideration.

Stress takes away from overall health, so it probably is something that we need to deal with anyway. In my genealogy work, I come across tales about how very hard people worked back then (1800s and before) and had none of the modern conveniences we have now. My mother recalls in her young life (she was born in 1913) that they worked hard, everyone worked, but they were all at the same dinner table every night, everyone told about their day, they shared everything, and loved each other dearly. She will tell you that if there was stress in their lives, they didn't have a clue what it was!


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes, mine had also been the most stressfull 2 years of my life pre dx. My husband had a severe heart attack, my son was in an almost fatal MVA, my ex husband (who I adore) was in an almost fatal Motorcycle accident and I opened and then closed a resturant including great debt that year.

I will add, I was also smoking like a crazy, but my Doc said smoking's role takes many, many years to see its effects.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hmmm...never thought about it before. I changed jobs in 2001, going from a zero stress position to an extremely high stress position. I was absolutely miserable, could not sleep Sunday nights because I did not want to wake up Monday and have to go work at that place. Eighteen months later I was diagnosed with LC. Was stress a factor?????

Following the DX my priorities changed and I came to LOVE my job...can't wait to get up and go to work......does that mean the LC will go away....probably not, but my stress level is now minus 13 and still dropping.


Link to comment
Share on other sites


I've always wondered that myself and have read about the results of stress on your immune system, and subsequently, your body.

The March before I was diagnosed, I found out that the Site Manager was messing around with one of my peers. This would have been iffy at best, but there was other unethical behavior going on around their affair. To make a very long story short, I ended up reporting the entire thing, after a very stressful 10 days of soul searching, to the Corporate office. That stressful 10 days was nothing compared to the hell that I went through working in a hostile environment and my subsequent months trying to find my footing in a company that until then had had my complete loyalty. I reported what I knew out of my desire to protect my workplace and because of a large sense of responsibility that I had because I knew what was going on and as a result, felt as culpable as the parties involved. My company chose to take the word of my boss, who was fairly new, in the interest of protecting their own agendas.

Whew.. sorry for the rant but my bitterness at being left high and dry by what I thought would be my saviors, still remains apparently. I had months and months of stress. In June of that year my doctor prescribed me anti-anxiety medication but I only took it a month because it made me forget things. End result was I ended up working through it all since I had to report to the same boss, who PS, two years later was fired for messing around with one of the employees on the floor. :shock: . Big surprise there.

Anyway, I don't think I have EVER had the stress that I had that March and subsequent months, I can't even define it, and still had to perform my job. The following January is when the nodule was found on my xray, at 11 mm....

Link to comment
Share on other sites


I have always been a believer that a person's mental wellbeing has a direct influence on their physical well being. Yes, my husband had gone thru 10 years of hell prior to his original diagnosis. He was let go from a job he had worked at for 21 years. He was a banker and it was during the time when downsizing was big... He felt secure in our future and the rug got ripped out from under him... The next 10 years were a struggle and involved many career moves . To this day, I will believe that it had a direct bearing on his health. I also believe that when a person is extremely happy or feels comfortable it has a positive affect on their health. I recall reading a book called "Laugh Yourself Well"... by Norman Cousins , I believe. He believed in the healing powers of the mind.

Another thing that bothers me is doctors attitudes. I mean, I thank God for our doctors, but.... I have lived long enough to remember the day when the doctor wasn't afraid to express his positive opinion about your health.. My doctor actually said ... "you will be fine"... When did you last have a doctor say anything like that or even near it. The magical part of it was that if we believed it, it was like the weight of the world was lifted from our shoulders and life was good. ... Now they fear a law suit if they say it and it doesn't come true. :cry: Okay, I know I'm usually quiet, but you got me started. I'm sorry for being so long winded, but it felt good. Today has been one of my depressed days . I've walked around feeling sorry for us , so maybe I needed to vent about something. Cindi , you are such a wonderful contributor here and I just want to thank you for that... God Bless !!!


Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've read studies contradicting each other on this topic, but I feel it is a contributing factor. A couple of years before my mother died of nsclc, my father had a massive stroke and my mother was his caregiving and he was giving her a really hard time.

The year before I was diagnosed with nsclc, my grandmother died and I was taking care of my mother who was dying of nsclc.

So, we were all much more stressed than usual before diagnosis.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

(Source : http://www.apa.org/monitor/jun99/stress.html)

Probing links between stress, cancer

Animal studies suggest that stress may promote cancer development, though studies in humans are less clear.

By Beth Azar

Monitor staff

It's no surprise that being diagnosed with cancer is stressful. A more interesting problem for many researchers is whether heightened stress can increase a person's susceptibility to cancer or worsen the prognosis of a person with cancer.

Studies in animals--mostly rats--have slowly built the case for the link between stress and the progression of cancerous tumors. Chronic and acute stressors, including surgery and social disruptions, appear to promote tumor growth. But the studies are difficult to do, say researchers, and the variables that seem to affect cancer in animals are many.

Even harder is research with humans. The interactions of the many systems that affect cancer--from the immune system to the endocrine system--along with environmental factors that are impossible to control for, make sorting out the role of stress extremely difficult.

"We might now have a bridge linking stress to the tumor process."

-- Jay Weiss

Emory University

In addition, researchers can't expose people to tumor cells as they do with animals. Instead, they either have to work retrospectively--interviewing people with cancer about their stress levels prior to diagnosis--or follow large numbers of people for many years until some develop cancer.

Stress, immunity and cancer

To study the link between stress and tumor growth in animals, researchers expose the animals to stress, then inject them with tumor cells (or vice versa) and monitor tumor growth. In such studies, researchers find a clear connection between stress and tumor growth, but it's not as simple as: More stress equals a bigger tumor. Instead, it depends on the type and timing of the stressful experiences.

For example, extreme cold appears to protect against tumor development in rats as does restraining the animal. In contrast, many other physical and psychological stresses, including handling, overcrowding and being bullied by other dominant animals, appear to promote tumor growth. Whether or not stress promotes tumor growth also depends on the type and timing of the injection of tumor cells and the type of animals used in the studies.

"These things are not simple," says Emory University psychologist Jay Weiss, PhD. "That's why the results aren't just simple and straightforward. Instead you get these interesting and unexpected courses of tumor development."

Once researchers establish a connection between stress and cancer in animals, the next question centers on what mechanism links stress to tumor development.

Psychobiologist Shamgar Ben-Eliyahu, PhD, of Tel Aviv University in Israel, has been working for the past decade on the link between stress, tumor development and a type of white blood cells called natural killer (NK) cells. Of all the immune system cells, NK cells have shown the strongest links to fighting certain forms of the disease, specifically preventing metastasis and destroying small metastases.

Ben-Eliyahu and his colleagues have found that stress--including forced swim, surgery and social confrontation--decreases NK-cell activity in rats for as little as an hour and as long as a day or two. In addition, these types of stresses also cause a two-to five-fold increase in certain types of tumors, as well as promote tumor metastasis, the researchers find.

For example, in a study published in a recent issue of the International Journal of Cancer (Vol. 80, p. 880_888), he and his colleagues report that the stress of abdominal surgery promotes the growth of cancerous tumors in rats. And although their study is not definitive, the study indicates that stress acts by suppressing NK-cell activity, the researchers write.

This finding may have implications for people undergoing surgery to remove tumors, they conclude. Several studies find that NK-cell activity is suppressed for days after general surgery. If that also happens when cancer patients have surgery to remove tumors, it could leave them at risk for metastasis.

Bridging stress and tumors

Meanwhile, Emory's Weiss is building the case for another connection between stress, the immune system and tumor development.

Recently he's found evidence that b-lymphocytes--the type of white blood cell that produces antibodies--are involved in fighting tumor cells in the lungs of rats (Cancer Research, Vol. 99, p. 1080_1089). This finding is exciting because b-lymphocytes are the immune cells that are most influenced by stress, says Weiss.

"We might now have a bridge linking stress to the tumor process," he says. Now that he's found the connection between b-cells and cancer, he can test whether stress influences that relationship.

Weiss believes it may be that the b-cells are somehow associated with the decrease in NK-cell activity that Ben-Eliyahu has found. Weiss's research suggests that b-cells can work on tumor cells in ways other than through their antibody system, which normally takes several days to kick in.

Instead, he and his colleagues find, these b-cells begin working just hours after tumor cells are injected into the animals. One possible explanation is that the b-cells begin to produce a substance called interleukin 12, which is known to activate NK cells. This implies that stress-induced reductions in b-cells may influence cancer by interrupting the production of interleukin 12--a hypothesis Weiss will now test.

Less clear in humans

The link between stress and cancer is much stronger in animals than it is in humans, says University of Pittsburgh psychologist Andrew Baum, PhD. Indeed, there are no clear findings in human studies--some retrospective studies find that people with cancer report more stressful life events before being diagnosed with cancer but others find no relationship. And the research itself is fraught with methodological problems, says Dana Bovbjerg, PhD, head of the biobehavioral medicine program at Mount Sinai School of Medicine's Ruttenberg Cancer Center.

Still, to date, the idea that stress may influence cancer development hasn't been given a fair shot, he says. It will take an extremely large, longitudinal study to tease the relationships apart. In addition, oncologists are still debating the importance of the immune system in fighting cancer--the primary mechanism investigated in the animal literature.

And while researchers such as Baum are looking at the immune system as a mechanism, they are also examining other options. He and his colleagues are replicating a 1985 study by psychologist Janet Keicolt-Glaser, PhD, and her husband, virologist Ron Glaser, PhD, which found that stress impedes cells' ability to repair DNA damage. Failure to repair DNA damage is one of the first stages of cancer development, many theories say.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use.