Can Long-Term Chronic Stress Increase Your Risk Of Cancer?

It's no surprise that the effects of stress have a negative impact on your physical, emotional, and mental well-being. But can too much stress leave you at a greater risk for developing cancer?

WebMD defines stress as changes in the environment that require your body to adjust and react in response. Stress can come from all areas of life, and not all stress is bad. However, when stress becomes too much, there can be adverse health reactions — some with potentially deadly consequences.

Mayo Clinic explains that there are numerous areas of your body that are directly impacted by experiencing stress. In addition to creating a negative mood, experiencing stress also produces negative effects on behavior and the physical body. When an individual is experiencing a stressful situation, he or she may experience a negative emotion like anger or sadness, combined with a physical symptom, such as chest pain or fatigue. This may result in a behavioral response, such as binging or not sleeping. Healthline explains that continually experiencing stress has been linked to showing signs of premature aging, heart conditions, and a weakened immune system.

But how do you know when you're dealing with stress levels that jeopardize your health?

Side effects of too much stress

When the sources of stress are numerous, or there are other factors that might contribute to the way an individual feels (like a medical condition), it's possible to overlook how much stress is being experienced. There are physical, mental, and emotional signs that you may be experiencing an overwhelming amount of stress.

On a physical level, the symptoms of excessive stress can be felt through maladies such as headaches, chest pain, issues with the digestive system, increased blood pressure and heart rate, and even changes in an individual's libido. However, as these symptoms can often be present in a wide array of medical conditions, they may not be attributed to the experience of stress (via Psychology Today).

Signs of too much stress can also be experienced mentally and emotionally, with overwhelming stress leading to feelings and displays of anger, irritability, feeling unmotivated, having racing thoughts, being unable to sleep or wanting to sleep too much, feeling depressed or anxious, and even engaging in bad decision making, according to WebMD.

Though many individuals may feel these side effects and recognize the body's signal flag for relaxation, it is oven disregarded or overlooked as being the body's warning flag for a major health concern (via Psychology Today). In fact, newly published research says that this chronic experience of stress across a lifetime can put you at a much higher risk for developing certain cancers (via U.S. News &. World Report).

Can lifetime stress cause cancer?

The idea that cancer development is increased or influenced by stress is not a new presentation. Stanford Medicine explains that the correlation between stress and cancer development could be dated all the way back to ancient Greece, when it was observed that melancholy individuals showed more cancer development than those who were not. However, until recently, studies have been unable to support a direct relationship.

A 2017 study published in Preventive Medicine demonstrated that across more than 3,000 cases of cancer diagnoses, there was a significant correlation with having worked in at least one stressful job, as reported by the participants. The study included participants who had been diagnosed with colon, stomach, rectal, bladder, or lung cancer.

Recent research has demonstrated that experiencing chronic stress over the course of a lifetime increased the risk of developing cancer by as much as 14%, according to U.S. News & World Report. As life stressors accumulate over time, they create increased damage to functioning systems. For example, overwhelming stress experienced over time can cause damage to the heart muscles and function (via Healthline).

While it's impossible to completely avoid stress, it's important to take time to find activities that can help you relax and reduce the amount of stress you experience. It could save your life.