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Picture of Topic  'Today I am feeling' - managing emotions


Topic 'Today I am feeling' - managing emotions

Share how you are feeling and swap tips for managing stress with other members and the online team

  • 186 conversations

Is cancer caused by stress?

Started by Anonymous on 05 April 2014 at 18:56

I have been living with cancer since 2010 and have had four operations to date and it looks like another two to come.  Stress is a big problem for me at the moment.

However, I was more interested in an article I read sometime ago about whether cancer is stress related and wondered what others thought.

Before I was diagnosed with bowel cancer I had been through an extremely stressful three to four years.  Financial stress with mounting debts and then my wife of 32 years cheating on me resulting in a separation and divorce.

I had been to the GP several times with stomach pains and cramps but it had been put down to irratible bowel syndrome.

Anyway, interested in the thoughts of others and in particular whether the continued stress is making the situation worse.

Comments (4)

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Displaying 4 comments

  • Picture of CarolineH
    From CarolineH  
    08 April 2014 at 09:06

    Good morning Lastviking,

    Your messages are very interesting and SuesiQ's comprehensive replies very helpful as always. In my experience cancer is a mulit factoral disease and stress is only one driver and it is very difficult to pinpoint any single one cause.

    I am the nutritional advisor for Maggie's and if you feel that by looking at your diet (you may have already) will give you a focus then please do contact me as I would be happy to help in any way that I can.

    Best wishes Caroline


  • Picture of SusieQ
    From SusieQ  
    07 April 2014 at 16:09
    Edited on: 07 April 2014 at 16:26


    Firstly, you're certainly not rambling, and it's good to hear your experience...although I'm sorry it's not been a good one. Your point about GP input, and co-ordination of cancer services for people within their caseload/practice is very valid. The National Survivorship Survivorship Initiative undertook a Cancer Care Review (CCR), and they determined that ' Most GPs understand that a CCR is about a conversation with the patient to get a sense of their understanding, answer any queries and assess support needs. Some GPs take an opportunistic approach and rely on the patient coming in for other purposes although many had a more structured approach.'

    There have been steps to create an IT template for GP's to follow, to make the process easier, but it sounds like your new GP may not be as proactive in this area?

    It's an interesting discussion point, and I'm wondering if this compares with other members' experience of a cancer diagnosis and GP support?

    You mention that you have just moved, and your new GP practice is seemingly unaware of you and your specific cancer related health needs. Perhaps it's worth making an appointment with them to specifically enquire what processes they have in place to support you? (You may have already done this, of course....).

    I hope it all soon gets sorted out, as you don't need the added stress at the moment....

    Very best wishes,



  • From Anonymous
    07 April 2014 at 15:45

    Thanks Sue for your reply and comments.  I will look at the references.

    In my professional life I have always had to handle stress and had done so for 35 years or so.  However, it is to me very different to have to face so many new stressful events at the same time, when cancer or, I assume, any other life threatening critical illness, arises.

    It seems to me that there is far too little support in the early stages of diagnosis and treatment.  You are left in a totally strange environment where everyone else seems to know what is happening but you and your loved ones.  On top of the medical issues the financial system and support network is a minefield even for someone who has worked in finance all their life.

    The apparent lack of a joined up systems to manage and help families faced with this situation just adds to the stress.  I did not see a Macmillan nurse until three months after my initial operation and I had to personally arrange for counselling to cope with the emotional problems for me and my new wife.  Luckily my firm had employee health insurance, but even this involved completing long forms and facing assessments.  Without this financial safety net, however, I don't know where I would be now.

    It seems to me the problem starts with the GP practice.

    The GP is the one person who should know what is happening and what is going to happen to patients and families faced with these problems.  There ought to be a co-ordinating role for the GP practice to ensure that the proper help and support is marshalled and available as soon as possible after diagnosis.  Not necessarily to provide the actual practical help but to ensure it is there and is happening.

    My original practice was very slow to get organised but at least did eventually put me on what I think they called a red list.  This gave me priority treatment and responses from the dreaded doctors' receptionist.  Unfortunately I have since moved to be closer to the hospitals that are treating me and my new practice has no such system and doesn't seem to know I exist.

    Sorry I am rambling on.  Maybe others have had a better experience, but we have found it all very daunting.


  • Picture of SusieQ
    From SusieQ  
    07 April 2014 at 10:19
    Edited on: 07 April 2014 at 10:19


    You’ve raised a very interesting question here, and one that is brought up frequently in discussions about the causes of cancer. In one way, it makes sense…many people diagnosed with cancer will report a period of major stress in the months/years leading up to their diagnosis.  However, current research has not yet found the causal link between the actual stress, and cancer. You may find an article entitled ‘Psychological Stress and Cancer’ from the National Cancer Institute’s website, interesting…as they have looked at various research studies to see if a link has been detected.

    Cancer Research Uk, in their section on ‘Stress and Cancer’ states that  ‘Most scientific studies have found that stress does not increase the risk of cancer. Research that combines the results from many different studies, called meta-analyses, can often provide the most reliable indication of cancer risk. A recent meta-analysis, including over 100,000 people, found no link between stress and bowel, lung, breast or prostate cancers.’

    However, we do know that there are things we humans do to cope with stress, which are risk factors in developing cancer, such as smoking, heavy drinking and overeating, for example.

    There is some evidence to suggest, however, that once someone has cancer, then stress may play a role in helping it progress. There has been media interest in a research investigation and subsequent paper ‘Transcription factor ATF3 links host adaptive response to breast cancer metastasis’ (Wolford,C, and others, 2013). Basically, this showed how exactly activation of a gene linked to stress could potentially lead to the spread of cancer. Admittedly, it was on mice, but it did point to a gene (ATF3) working detrimentally on our immune systems, weakening the ability to destroy cancer cells.

    The answer may lie in how we manage stress, so looking at ways to handle stress may be a way of helping ourselves to feel less fraught…putting our bodies in the best position to deal with the cancer. If you live near any of Maggie’s Centres, you will find Stress Management courses which can provides the tools you need to cope with stress in the future. We also have a useful section on ‘Managing Stress’ in Maggie’s Cancerlinks. Nhs Choices provide some tips, and support  in ‘Struggling with Stress’ which help find strategies to deal with current day to day stress.  You may also like to consider joining our online support group for people living with cancer, which many people have found helpful. (just follow link here, for more information about our online groups).

    Like you, I would be very interested to hear what other online members have to say on this topic?  Have there been significant stressors prior to your or someone you care about’s cancer?

    Meanwhile, LastViking, I’m aware that you’ve been through considerable emotional pain and upheaval, as well as having to deal with ongoing bowel cancer problems. If you’d like to talk more about the personal impact for you, you are very welcome to message either Robyn or myself,

    Very best wishes


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