Stress hormones linked to breast cancer spread, angiogenesis and recurrence

Stress hormones linked to breast cancer spread, angiogenesis and recurrence

Researchers from Basel Medical School in Switzerland have shown that an increase in stress hormones like cortisol is linked to an increase in glucocorticoid receptor sites in distant organs and a greater level of metastases in breast cancer; stress can also reawaken dormant cancer cells.

Stress promotes meetastasis

The researchers, led by Professor Mohamed Bentires-Alj, showed (1) that, not only do stress hormones increase metastasis, but the different receptors can produce slightly modified forms of the disease and this can render cancer drugs less effective. The researchers studied specific gene activity in their mouse models to assess how the cancer varied between the primary and the secondaries.

The researchers also showed that the glucocorticoid receptors became very active in metastasis and that the mice with metastases had much higher levels of stress hormones cortisol and corticosterone that the mice with no metastases.

Stress, angiogenesis and cancer progression

As long ago as 2010, it was shown that sympathetic neurotransmitters, such as catecholamines and neuropeptides, could affect both cancer cell growth and tumor vascularization (angiogenesis) and the provision of new blood supplies to existing or new tumours in most cancer types (2). Also, Neuropeptide Y (NPY), directly stimulates angiogenesis. 

Angiogenesis - cancer, obesity, what else?

Chris Woollams, fomer Oxford University Biochemist and a founder of CANCERactive, added, "It is now well known that stress activates the ‘fight or flight’ response in the body causing the release of a number of stress hormones such as catecholamines and neuropeptides, which influence cancer cell growth and tumor angiogenesis, and norepinephrine and epinephrine, which promote angiogenesis. Angiogenesis doesn't just promote cancer - it can promote obesity, for example (3)."

Managing Stress to prevent recurrence

Most patients worry about their cancer coming back, even after years of seemingly being 'all clear'. And their fears are justified; but their fears may be the cause of its return. Researchers from Philadelphia and New Your Medical Schools have shown with ovarian and lung cancer that a specific mechanism, activated by both stress and neutrophils could reawaken dormant cancer cells even after many years of being seemingly 'cured' or NED (4)..

Woollams added, "We know now that stress alters metabolic functions, the gut microbiome and stress can reawaken cancer, even if you have seemingly 'beaten' your cancer, you must pay attention to your stress and anxiety and take action to reduce it. Supplements such as Boswellia and Ashwagandha help, as do exercise and a rainbow diet.  We have covered links between stress and illnesses including cancer before, and even the work of the UCLA Stress Management Laboratory who say that people with cancer who actively manage their stress survive significantly longer. We also have covered the benefits of endorphins – particularly from exercise and yoga – in neutralising cortisol; and the benefits of the Ayurvedic herb Ashwagandha in doing the same. We have also shown how stress damages your gut bacteria and reduces their effectiveness causing a loss of bioactive compounds in the body and a reduction in the immune system.

UCLA told us that their 15 years of study showed counselling, the Rainbow Diet, taking fish oils, and practicing yoga and meditation were each and all important in active stress management and improving survival.”

Go to: Stress Management aids cancer survival



1. Glucocorticoids promote breast cancer metastasis; Milan M. S. Obradovi,  Mohamed Bentires-Alj et al. Nature, 2019; 

2. Sympathetic Neurotransmitters and Tumor Angiogenesis-Link between Stress and Cancer ProgressionJason Tilan, Joanna Kitlinska; J Oncol; 2010;2010:539706.

3. Diet, lifestyle and angiogenesis - the Angiogenesis Foundation

4. Reactivation of dormant tumor cells by modified lipids derived from stress-activated neutrophils; Michela Perego et al; Sci Transl Med
. 2020 Dec 2;12(572):eabb5817.  



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