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

Feb 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: Genetics of cancer: Non-coding DNA can finally be decoded

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Research reveals how key controller protein is switched on

Jul 10, 2014

New research has uncovered how a complex protein pivotal in the development of cancer, viral infection and autoimmune diseases is activated. The discovery answers a key question about one of the most widely-researched proteins ...

Coral, human cells linked in death

Jun 09, 2014

Humans and corals are about as different from one another as living creatures get, but a new finding reveals that in one important way, they are more similar than anyone ever realized.

Recommended for you

Pain and itch may be signs of skin cancer

10 hours ago

Asking patients if a suspicious skin lesion is painful or itchy may help doctors decide whether the spot is likely to be cancerous, according to a new study headed by Gil Yosipovitch, MD, Chairman of the Department of Dermatology ...

Genetics of cancer: Non-coding DNA can finally be decoded

13 hours ago

Cancer is a disease of the genome resulting from a combination of genetic modifications (or mutations). We inherit from our parents strong or weak predispositions to developing certain kinds of cancer; in addition, we also ...

User comments : 0