Stress: The Hidden Cancer Risk
Can too much stress give you cancer?
The National Cancer Institute doesn't think so.
“Although stress can cause a number of physical health problems,” asserts the NCI website, “the evidence that it can cause cancer is weak.”
But that's not the whole story. Let's put it this way:
Living under stress may very likely change your body and behavior in ways that can leave you at higher risk for cancer.
Stress throws certain hormones out of balance, which can weaken your immune system, and once that happens, you're more vulnerable to infections and less able to fight off diseases such as cancer. You're also at higher risk for chronic inflammation, a key cancer trigger.
Beyond the physical changes, there are all those nasty things that stress makes you do.
People under stress look for ways to cope with it. They may binge on unhealthy foods, risking obesity, diabetes and many forms of cancer. Or they may smoke, raising their risk of lung cancer. Some folks abuse alcohol, opening the door to liver cancer. Toxic behavior brings on toxic results.
It's easy, then, to see the value of finding positive ways of managing and minimizing personal stress.
But what if your stress isn't personal, but environmental? What if you live in an underserved, high crime, food desert neighborhood, where most folks simply struggle in “survival mode” and moving out is not an option?
That's when health professionals and community leaders need to step in and work together.
For example, one interesting intervention in Los Angeles involved community health workers and Latina immigrant women. These "promotoras" (promoters) created spaces in churches and homes, providing a form of family support, and allowing people to talk about their stress. They served as lay mental health workers, offering a sympathetic ear and deep understanding, since they all shared the same experiences from living in the same community.
“Creating new treatments will only serve as a Band-Aid,” said Noe Chavez, Ph.D., a community psychologist at City of Hope. “We need to become advocates and work with partners in multiple sectors to improve our environments using community intervention and policy change.”
For self-care, mental health and stress relief resources, many of which are free, visit https://brainmind.org/stress-relief.
Here, they have everything from meditation and fitness videos, to podcasts and places to access counseling.