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Sufferers blame stress for breast cancer, despite no scientific link

23 March 2011 No Comment

STRESS is often blamed for breast cancer despite no scientific proof of a link.

And while many point to stress they also commonly overlook other lifestyle-related issues – such as smoking and obesity – where there is a clear link to the cancer.

These are the key findings of research which took in the views of almost 1500 Australian breast cancer survivors.

It found just over four in 10 (43.5 per cent) believed there was a factor which contributed to their cancer and, among these women, more than half (58.1 per cent) blamed stress.

The women also pointed to previous use of hormone therapy (17 per cent), a family history of cancer (9.8 per cent).

Two per cent attributed their cancer to other lifestyle factors.

“It is concerning that only two per cent of the women in the study attributed their breast cancer to lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise and alcohol consumption,” said Christine Bennett, chair of the Bupa Health Foundation Steering Committee which part-funded the study.

“There is scientific evidence that being overweight, smoking and excessive alcohol are risk factors.”

Women aged under 40 were more likely to believe there was a reason for their breast cancer.

Dr Bennett said that while the exact causes of breast cancer were unknown, studies into the effect of stress on the body and looking for potential triggers of breast cancer had did not reveal a link.

And despite commonly-held views to the contrary, there was “no scientific evidence that points to stress as a cause of breast cancer”.

The Bupa Health Foundation and Well-Being after Breast Cancer Study and was led by Robin Bell, Deputy Director of the Women’s Health Research Program at Monash University and Alfred Hospital.

Professor Bell said it showed women often responded to a breast cancer diagnosis with a new resolve to improve their overall health, usually through improved exercise.

This was beneficial, she said, although women should be wary of making changes which could be counter-productive in the fight against cancer – such as removing all dairy products from the diet.

“Cutting out dairy products may remove some fat from the diet but it could have a negative effect on the bone health of women who, due to some cancer treatments, are already at risk of osteoporosis,” Prof Bell said.

Of those who blamed stress, Prof Bell said, the women could also feel a sense of mistaken guilt that they should have acted sooner.

“If doctors are aware of this guilt, they will be in a better position to help women address their feelings and overcome their distress,” Prof Bell said.

The research is published in the March edition of the journal Psycho-Oncology.

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