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Cancer Health Center

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How Sleep Affects Cancer

Poor Sleep Alters Hormones That Influence Cancer Cells

Sleep, Stress, and Cancer

Previous research, including some noted in Spiegel's study, shows that cancer patients who manage their stress in group therapy, with good social networks, or with regular exercise often fare better than patients who don't manage stress effectively.

"We know that people who are depressed or anxious have a specific pattern of sleep disturbances. And if you had a bad night's sleep, you don't handle stress as well," says Spiegel. Conversely, those who better manage stress are more likely to have good sleep patterns.

Just last week, Swedish researchers said women under a lot of stress may double their risk of breast cancer compared with those who remain calm when life throws them a curveball.

"My advice for cancer patients is to try to handle stress well," says Spiegel. "By doing all the things your grandmother told you to do -- eat well, sleep well, and get plenty of exercise -- you're helping your body cope better with the disease."

Does this mean that ensuring good sleep hygiene will become the big thing in cancer treatment? No, says Len Lichtenfeld, MD, of the American Cancer Society.

"But is this important for people to remember? Yes," he tells WebMD.

"The bottom line of this report is that there is enough information to take seriously the idea that how our bodies respond to cancer is influenced by more than just the surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. It can be influenced by stress and sleep, and these are two pieces in the puzzle that shouldn't be overlooked."

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