Stress wrongly blamed for breast cancer

March 23, 2011

Australian breast cancer survivors mistakenly see stress as the cause of their cancer while vastly underestimating the possibility that an unhealthy lifestyle may have been a contributing factor.

The Bupa Health Foundation and Well-being After Study conducted by researchers at Monash University and published in this month’s Psycho-Oncology journal found that of women who felt there was a direct cause of their cancer more than half – 58.1 per cent – believed it was due to stress.

The research showed only two per cent of respondents attributed their breast cancer to lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise and alcohol consumption, despite scientific evidence that being overweight and excessive alcohol consumption are risk factors.

“While the exact causes of breast cancer are unknown, there is no scientific evidence that points to stress as a cause of breast cancer,” said Dr Christine Bennett, Chair of the Bupa Health Foundation said.

“Reducing stress may be good for general health, but it’s not a way of reducing the risk of breast cancer. By maintaining a healthy weight, maintaining a good diet and taking regular exercise we can all reduce the risk of breast cancer and other types of cancers as well.”

The study asked 1,496 if they believed there was anything that caused them to develop breast cancer. Stress was by far the most common response, way above hormone therapy (13.8 per cent) or family history (10.2 per cent) in those women who believed there was a factor that caused their cancer.

Associate Professor Robin Bell, co-author of the study and Deputy Director of the Women’s Health Program at Monash University’s Alfred Hospital, said despite women being poorly informed about the causes of their cancer it is important that healthcare providers are aware of these beliefs in order to understand the lifestyle changes made by breast cancer survivors.

“Making lifestyle changes, like starting an exercise program, may have positive benefits,” Associate Professor Bell said.

“But healthcare professionals also need to be wary of patients taking misguided steps in trying to ‘improve’ their health.

“For example, cutting out dairy products may remove some fat from the diet but it could have a negative effect on the bone health of women who, due to some cancer treatments, are already at risk of osteoporosis.”

Associate Professor Bell also pointed out that some women who believe their cancer was stress induced may feel guilty because they may feel they could have avoided breast cancer if they had acted to reduce the amount of in their lives.

“If doctors are aware of this guilt they will be in a better position to help women address their feelings and overcome their distress.”

Explore further: Review examines breast cancer prevention strategies in the United States

Related Stories

Prevention still the best medicine

October 5, 2010

Although the debate continues about the screening and treatment of illnesses such as breast cancer, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease, there is one fundamental piece of advice all physicians agree on: maintain a healthy ...

Insulin levels found to affect breast cancer survival

December 6, 2010

( -- Women treated for breast cancer who have elevated levels of circulating insulin face substantially higher mortality rates than their peers with lower levels, according to a new study authored by a Yale School ...

Truths and myths about breast cancer risks

January 21, 2011

Every day, science gives us new tips to help navigate our personal health journeys. With such a plethora of information available at the click of the mouse, that gold mine of knowledge can quickly feel like a maze of confusing ...

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.