Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Does Stress Feed Cancer?

By Katie Moisse American Scientific

A new study shows stress hormones make it easier for malignant tumors to grow and spread

A little stress can do us good—it pushes us to compete and innovate. But chronic stress can increase the risk of diseases such as depression, heart disease and even cancer. Studies have shown that stress  might promote cancer indirectly by weakening the immune system's anti-tumor defense or by encouraging new tumor-feeding blood vessels to form. But a new study published April 12 in The Journal of Clinical Investigation shows that stress hormones, such as adrenaline, can directly support tumor growth and spread.

For normal cells to thrive in the body, "they need to be attached to their neighbors and their surroundings," says the study's lead author Anil Sood from The University of Texas M. D, Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Cells that detach from their environment undergo a form of programmed cell death called anoikis. "But cancer cells have come up with way to bypass this effect—they avoid anoikis," Sood says. This allows cancer cells to break off from tumors, spread throughout the body (in blood or other fluid) and form new tumors at distant sites—a process called metastasis. So Sood wondered: Could stress affect anoikis? "It surprised us that this biology hadn't been studied before," he notes. "Stress influences so many normal physiological processes. Why wouldn't it be involved in tumor progression?" Read more.