Over time, men and women under chronic stress face a significantly higher risk that they will die as a result of cancer, a new study warns.
The finding comes from an analysis of more than three decades of U.S. data from a federal health and nutrition survey.
After adjusting for a number of influential factors — including race, gender and prior medical history — the researchers found that lifelong stress appears to trigger a 14% rise in risk of cancer death.
Lead author Justin Moore explained that the link owes to a concept known as “allostatic load.”
That’s a measure of cumulative stress, or wear and tear on the body, due to what Moore described as “life course stressors.”
Moore, an assistant professor in the cancer prevention, control and population health program at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University and Georgia Cancer Center in Atlanta, noted that allostatic load levels can be measured in hard numbers. To do so, experts look at several key biological indicators that together show precisely how stress affects the body.
Such wear and tear indicators include having a high body mass index (BMI), a key marker for obesity; high blood pressure; high blood sugar or cholesterol levels; and/or high blood levels of a liver-produced protein called albumin. High levels of creatinine, a waste product from normal muscular wear and tear, are also a marker for allostatic load stress, Moore noted, as are high levels of C-reactive protein, a sign of systemwide inflammation.
To see how such indicators — and allostatic load as a whole — might impact cancer deaths, Moore’s team looked over nationwide health survey data collected between 1988 and 2019.
Collectively, the surveys included more than 41,000 adults. More than seven in 10 were white, about 13% were Black and roughly 9% were Hispanic.