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7 ways that stress affects cancer growth

Stress is not a friend to any individual who is on a healing journey with breast cancer. I have written about the connection between stress, immune impairment and tumor growth on many occasions and so have hundreds of other experts during the last decade.

A study published in September 2015, however, presents a fascinating take on the subject.  The joint team, which included both medical and psychological researchers from UCLA, the University of Texas, The University of Iowa and the United States National Cancer Institute, analyzed data which explains how the nervous system, and in particular the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), plays a major part in tumor metastasisThe spread of cancer cells from the place where they first formed to another part of the body. In metastasis, cancer cells break away from the original (primary) tumor, travel through the blood or lymph system, and form a new tumor in other organs or tissues of the body. The new, metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if breast cancer spreads to the lung, the cancer cells in the lung are breast cancer cells, not lung cancer cells. when the body is under chronic stress.

Role of the Sympathetic Nervous System

The nervous system as a whole is comprised of a network of nerve cells and fibers that transmit impulses (i.e. communications) between parts of the body. While the parasympathetic arm of this system is involved in relaxation — the lowering of heart rate, the increase in digestive activity and the relaxation of muscles, among other things — the sympathetic arm is responsible for acceleration and constriction, especially when the body is engaged in a “flight or fight” response.

You can look at it this way: if your entire nervous system were a car, the parasympathetic would be the brakes while the sympathetic would be the gas pedal. Both of these systems have evolved to work together on an as-needed basis when the body is operating in an “ideal” environment.

How stress leads directly to cancer growth

Of course, most of us do not operate in an ideal environment. Unless we take the time to consciously de-stress, the pressures of daily life — deadlines, responsibilities, lifestyle choices and our own negative internal dialogue — most of us will find ourselves in “flight or fight” mode a majority of the time.

And this is where we can run into problems.

When we are chronically under stress (or perceived stress), the normal functions of the sympathetic nervous system can actually encourage cancer tumors to spread.

Chronic stress causes the over-amped SNS to begin to affect gene expression through what are called Molecular Mobility and Defense Programs (MMDPs). MMDPs are genetic programs that are set into motion when the SNS senses that the body is under threat; most importantly, MMDPs direct the signaling of adrenal hormones and adrenal receptor systems.” Once these systems get “turned on,” they create a cascade of chemical reactions which include the release of certain neurotransmitters as well as the hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline.

After a short-term threat has passed (you escaped the lion or you got away from that mugger, for example), the body naturally goes back to chemical homeostasis within about an hour.

What new studies have discovered, however, is that the ongoing activation of MMDPs caused by chronic stress changes genetic codes to actually strengthen and grow tumors.

7 ways stress can impact cancer growth:

  1. Inhibit DNA Repair
  2. Activate inflammatory responses
  3. Encourage angiogenesis or increased blood flow to cancer cells
  4. Inhibit immune response
  5. Inhibit programmed cancer cell death
  6. Reduce the cytotoxic function of Natural Killer cells
  7. Stimulate “epithelial-mesenchymal transition,” one of the processes through which new cancer stem cells can be born and encourage the spread of cancer cells.

In vivo animal studies have shown that “behavioral stress can accelerate the progression of breast and prostate cancer, as well as ovarian carcinomas, neuroblastomas, malignant melanomas, pancreatic carcinoma and some haematopoietic cancers such as leukemia.”

Reduce your stress and heal your body

“Although SNS-mediated MMDP transcriptional activation might have been an evolutionarily adaptive response to threatening environments under ancestral conditions, it has also enabled the very different conditions of modern life to chronically stimulate biological stress responses that inadvertently facilitate the development and progression of cancer,” the joint report states.

This statement leads to the discussion of one characteristic of the SNS that is vital to understand. The SNS, unlike other systems that are involved in stress response in the body, is easily activated by the mere anticipation of a proposed threat. This could mean that incessantly worrying about that bill coming due or the next round of cancer-related tests could directly stimulate SNS-controlled tumor metastasis in your body.

The point of mentioning this is not to stress you out, even more, when it comes to stress! It is, however, to emphasize the vital importance of having a regular, daily stress-reduction protocol, including Chiropractic Care, meditation, EFT, exercise, emotional healing work , and body work such as massage.

Most of all, remember what science itself is telling you: If you are on a healthy breast journey, putting into motion a daily stress-reduction protocol is not an option, it is an absolute necessity.

Dr. Veronique Desaulniers, better known as Dr. V, is the founder of The 7 Essentials System, a step-by-step guide that teaches you exactly how to prevent and heal breast cancer naturally. To get your free 7-day mini e-course, and to receive her weekly action steps and inspiring articles on the power of natural medicine, visit

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