Stress May Reduce Effectiveness of Cancer Treatment

Increased levels of stress ñ either mental or physical ñ may reduce the effectiveness of cancer treatment, according to researchers at Ohio State University. These findings are based on studies that looked at how breast cancer cultures reacted to treatment in relation to levels of a stress-related protein.

Results suggest that the heat shock factor-1 (HSF-1) protein, which increases in production at the onset of stress, reduces the body’s ability to kill cancer cells. This decrease in effectiveness was witnessed even after cancer cells were damaged through the process of radiation or chemotherapy treatment.

HSF-1 is associated with both mental stress and physical stress. The body produces it in an attempt to insulate healthy cells and tissues from the negative effects of stress. Apparently, it also helps insulate cancer cells from negative harm as well.

In response to this, Ohio State researchers recommend patients take steps to reduce mental and physical sources of stress in the days leading up to treatment. Both relaxation and physical inactivity are important, according to researchers.

While exercise and activity are often recommended for cancer patients, lead study author Govindasamy Ilangovan notes that timing of exercise is important: “It looks like any intense or prolonged physical activity a couple of days before the start of cancer therapy is highly risky, and has potential to reduce the benefits of treatment.”

Though the study looked only for a link between breast cancer and stress, it should be noted that HSF-1 production could affect a wide variety of cancer types.

Based on these findings, researchers suggest that it may be possible to develop drugs that effectively suppress the adverse treatment effects of HSF-1. The University of Ohio study was published in the September 21st online edition of Molecular Cancer Research.