Public Release:  Association found between stress and breast cancer aggressiveness

American Association for Cancer Research

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Psychosocial stress could play a role in the etiology of breast cancer aggressiveness, particularly among minority populations, according to study results presented at the Fourth AACR Conference on The Science of Cancer Health Disparities, held here from Sept. 18-21, 2011.

"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," said 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.

Rauscher and colleagues studied patient-reported perceptions of fear, anxiety and isolation, together referred to as psychosocial stress, and associations with breast cancer aggressiveness. He cautioned that patients' stress levels were examined two to three months post-diagnosis.

The study included 989 breast cancer patients who were recently diagnosed; of those, 411 were non-Hispanic black, 397 were non-Hispanic white, and 181 were Hispanic. Results showed that psychosocial stress scores were higher for both black and Hispanic patients compared to white patients.

"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," Rauscher said.

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The mission of the American Association for Cancer Research is to prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1907, the AACR is the world's oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research. The membership includes 33,000 basic, translational and clinical researchers; health care professionals; and cancer survivors and advocates in the United States and more than 90 other countries. The AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise from the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer through high-quality scientific and educational programs. It funds innovative, meritorious research grants, research fellowships and career development awards. The AACR Annual Meeting attracts more than 18,000 participants who share the latest discoveries and developments in the field. Special conferences throughout the year present novel data across a wide variety of topics in cancer research, treatment and patient care. The AACR publishes seven major peer-reviewed journals: Cancer Discovery; Cancer Research; Clinical Cancer Research; Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention; Molecular Cancer Therapeutics; Molecular Cancer Research; and Cancer Prevention Research. AACR journals received 20 percent of the total number of citations given to oncology journals in 2010.

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