Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Breast Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Does Stress Cause Breast Cancer?

Swedish Study Suggests That Chilling Out now Could Lower Breast Cancer Risk Later
By
WebMD Health News

Sept. 24, 2003 (Copenhagen, Denmark) -- As if life isn't stressful enough, Swedish researchers say that being under stress maydouble a woman's risk of developing breast cancer.

They based their findings on surveys of more than 1,400 Swedish women in the late 1960s who were part of a long-term health-care study.

The women, who were reported to be a representative sample of the Swedish population, were asked to fill out a health survey, which included a question about stress, asking whether at any time in the last five years they had experienced a feeling of stress for a month or more.

Examples of stressful situations the women might have encountered were tension, fear, anxiety, or sleep disturbances related to family or work problems. Because the question about stress was only one of many different questions asked at the time, the researchers felt that their answers would probably have accurately reflected the way they felt at the time, says Oesten Helgesson, MD, a physician in the department of primary health care at Gothenburg University.

Although other studies have looked at the question of whether stress can contribute to breast cancer, those studies were based on reports from individual patients who were already diagnosed with cancer, and that could skew the results, says Helgesson, in an interview with WebMD at a European cancer conference here.

"The women sit in a room with a lump in their breast and they get a form to fill about stress, and that could introduce bias. That's why we looked at this question," he tells WebMD.

The women were part of a study that included an initial examination and detailed health questionnaire, and regular follow-up exams over the next 24 years. Helgesson and the other researchers took the information the women provided about stress at the outset of the study, and used it to determine if there was any relation between increased breast cancer risk and earlier stress.

Stress Ranks High Among Risk Factors

They found that women who reported being under stress had twice the risk of developing breast cancer as women who managed to stay cool, calm, and collected. This twofold risk held up even when they took into account other factors that might explain the increased risk for breast cancer, such as family history of cancer, alcohol use, body weight, smoking, and factors related to reproduction, such as the age when women first had their periods, the age they were when they had their first baby, and the age they were they began menopause.

Helgesson is quick to caution that the study is small and that much more research needs to be done before anyone can state with authority that stress can increase the risk of breast cancer the way that, say, smoking contributes to lung cancer and heart disease.

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Overview
From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
Dealing with breast cancer
Get answers to your questions.
 
woman having mammogram
Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
woman undergoing breast cancer test
Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
 
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
VIDEO
Resolved To Quit Smoking
SLIDESHOW
 
Woman getting mammogram
Article
Screening Tests for Women
SLIDESHOW
 
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
serious woman
Article
 
what is your cancer risk
HEALTH CHECK
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow
SLIDESHOW