Psychological stress may be involved in the causation of breast cancer aggressiveness, researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago explained at the Fourth AACR Conference on The Science of Cancer and Health Disparities, held in Washington D.C. The researchers added that stress may be particularly important with regards to breast cancer aggressiveness among minority populations.

Garth H. Rauscher, Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology in the division of epidemiology and biostatistics at the School of Public Health, University of Illinois at Chicago, said:

“We found that after diagnosis, black and Hispanic breast cancer patients reported higher levels of stress than whites, and that stress was associated with tumor aggressiveness.”

Rauscher and team assessed how patients reported their perceptions of isolation, fear and anxiety – which they referred to as psychological stress, to see whether there might be a link to breast cancer aggressiveness.

The authors stressed that they asked patients these questions two or three months after they were diagnosed with breast cancer.

Of the 989 patients with breast cancer in the study, 397 were non-Hispanic white, 191 were Hispanic, and 411 were non-Hispanic black. They found that mental stress scores were higher for both Hispanic and black patients compared to their Caucasian counterparts.

Rauscher said:

“Those who reported higher levels of stress tended to have more aggressive tumors. However, what we don’t know is if we had asked them the same question a year or five years before diagnosis, would we have seen the same association between stress and breast cancer aggressiveness?

It’s not clear what’s driving this association. It may be that the level of stress in these patients’ lives influenced tumor aggressiveness. It may be that being diagnosed with a more aggressive tumor, with a more worrisome diagnosis and more stressful treatments, influenced reports of stress. It may be that both of these are playing a role in the association. We don’t know the answer to that question.”

Written by Christian Nordqvist