Stress and Breast Health: Doctor Unveils the Connection

Stress and Breast Health: Doctor Unveils the Connection

Psychological stress and the way we respond to it affects our health in a myriad of ways. Protracted exposure to stress can cause changes in the body’s equilibrium and put the body at risk for many health concerns like heart disease, digestive issues, blood pressure changes, headaches, sleep disturbances, difficulty in concentration, depression, and even an increased risk of contracting viral infections. One of the lesser-known effects of stress is on breast health that needs awareness. In this article, Dr Karishma Kirti, Consultant Breast Specialist and Oncoplastic Surgeon shares the connection between stress and breast health.

In this rat race of the modern world, we face stress almost every day, at times due to daily events like concerns at work, relationships, or finances and sometimes additional stressors add to it, like a bereavement or other sudden adversities. In response to external stressors, the body releases stress hormones like epinephrine and norepinephrine, increasing the blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels— a reaction commonly known as the “fight or flight” response. While this response helps with immediate stress, continued exposure to this milieu, because of prolonged or chronic stress, can have detrimental effects.

How does stress affect breast health?

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The effect of stress on breast health is multifaceted. A large UK-based study involving over 100,000 women in 2016 found no consistent relationship between stress and breast cancer.

Also Read: 8 Myths About Breast Augmentation Debunked

While multiple studies have found no direct link to breast cancer, it is important to note that how we handle stress may affect breast health. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is an important part of breast health. Obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and alcohol are all known risk factors for breast cancer. It is not uncommon to put one’s health on the back bench when one is faced with stress.

Stress may influence dietary choices and eating patterns. Maintaining a healthy, well-balanced diet is a proven method to reduce the risk of cancer. Stress can also increase alcohol consumption. Alcohol consumption, and especially binge drinking can increase the risk of breast cancer.

For many people, getting the daily exercise in can be an effort, and when faced with further turmoil in life, it may be the first thing to go off the priority list. Being physically active or exercising is a proven way to prevent breast cancer, and as little as 2.5 hours a week of medium-impact exercise like brisk walking, is considered adequate for most individuals.

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In patients with cancer, stress may play an important part in the outcome of the disease. Findings from animal studies have shown that chronic stress can potentially impact the progression and spread of cancer cells. Some studies have shown poorer survival rates in cancer patients experiencing stress but the evidence remains weak, and more studies in the future are needed to define the relationship.

Also Read: Is Breast Cancer Hereditary, Doctors Speak

Whether stress affects breast health may not be very clear but one thing is clear. High-risk behaviour can impact the disease prognosis. Psychological stressors are inevitable in our lives. It is important to manage them well and in a healthy way.

How to manage stress?

Some tips to manage stress include:

  • Identifying the stressors
  • Practising mindfulness and meditation
  • Prioritising ones on health- physical and mental times

Different methods or a combination of them work for different individuals, so be open to various coping mechanisms. Seek professional help if you need to. There are no medals in life for taking on more than you need to!

Dispelling myths and understanding evidence-based information is crucial when it comes to health-related topics, including cancer. It is important to rely on scientific research and facts rather than spreading misinformation.

Known risk factors for breast cancer include age, family history, certain genetic mutations (such as BRCA1 and BRCA2), hormonal factors (like early menstruation or late menopause), hormone replacement therapy, and certain lifestyle factors like alcohol consumption and lack of physical activity.

Promoting accurate information and awareness about known risk factors and preventive measures can contribute to better public health outcomes. It is always advisable to consult with healthcare professionals for accurate and personalised health information. 

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