Stress may increase a woman's risk of developing cervical cancer

February 16, 2008

A woman’s daily stress can reduce her ability to fight off a common sexually transmitted disease and increase her risk of developing the cancer it can cause, according to a new study. No such association is seen, however, between past major life events, such as divorce or job loss, and the body’s response to the infection.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is spread during sexual intercourse. The most common subtype of the virus is HPV16. Infection with HPV16 and other HPV subtypes can cause cervical cancer.

“HPV infection alone is not sufficient to cause cervical cancer,” explained Fox Chase Cancer Center’s Carolyn Y. Fang, Ph.D. “Most HPV infections in healthy women will disappear spontaneously over time. Only a small percentage will progress to become precancerous cervical lesions or cancer. An effective immune response against HPV can lead to viral clearance and resolution of HPV infection. But some women are less able to mount an effective immune response to HPV.”

Fang and her colleagues hypothesized that stress could lead to alterations in immune functioning that make the body less able to effectively clear the virus. Their study exploring this hypothesis appears in the February issue of Annals of Behavioral Medicine (volume 17, number 1).

In the study, researchers examined potential associations between stress and immune response to HPV among women who had precancerous cervical lesions. The women were asked to complete a questionnaire about their perceived stress in the past month and about major stressful life events that had occurred, such as divorce, death of a close family member or loss of a job.

“We were surprised to discover no significant association between the occurrence of major stressful life events and immune response to HPV16. This could be due to the amount of time that has passed since the event occurred and how individuals assess and cope with the event,” said Fang. “Our findings about subjective daily stress told a different story, however. Women with higher levels of perceived stress were more likely to have an impaired immune response to HPV16. That means women who report feeling more stressed could be at greater risk of developing cervical cancer because their immune system can’t fight off one of the most common viruses that causes it.”

Source: Fox Chase Cancer Center

Explore further: Gravity, who needs it? NASA studies your body in space

Related Stories

Gravity, who needs it? NASA studies your body in space

November 18, 2015

What happens to your body in space? NASA's Human Research Program has been unfolding answers for over a decade. Space is a dangerous, unfriendly place. Isolated from family and friends, exposed to radiation that could increase ...

Stress accelerates breast cancer progression in mice: study

September 16, 2010

Chronic stress acts as a sort of fertilizer that feeds breast cancer progression, significantly accelerating the spread of disease in animal models, researchers at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center have found.

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

( -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.