A disturbing conclusion from a survey conducted by YouGov on behalf of the World Cancer Research Fund: half of Britons polled think that stress can cause cancer, even though there is no scientific evidence to support that belief.
The survey, which attempted to divine the general public’s knowledge of what does and does not cause cancer, asked 2,070 adults about stress and whether it causes cancer or not – and exactly half of those questioned claimed that it does. And the proportion of people who think that is increasing, according to the annual survey: last year, 46% of the people polled believed that theory – which, according to everything we know, is untrue.
However, nothing is ever that simple when it comes to cancer. While there is no evidence to support the stress/cancer link, the World Cancer Research Fund is quick to point out that stress provides an element of risky behaviour that can lead to cancer. “People under stress can sometimes behave in unhealthy ways, such as smoking, overeating or drinking heavily, which do increase their risk of many cancers,” the Fund pointed out in a press release to support the survey findings. “If you’re under stress, it’s important to try to find other ways of coping, such as doing physical activity.”
‘Poor’ evidence of stress and breast cancer link
This opinion has been backed up in over here by Cancer Research UK, which zones in on the risks (or otherwise) of stress when it comes to breast cancer. As their literature points out;
“It has been suggested that stress can cause cancer, particularly breast cancer. But the evidence for this has been poor. While a few studies have found a link, they have often only looked at a small number of participants or asked women to recall if they were stressed before they developed the disease, which isn’t a reliable way of measuring stress.”
But again, CRUK spokesperson Fiona Osgun was quick to point out the knock-on effects of stress. “Research shows there’s no direct link between stress and cancer, but being stressed can make us more likely to reach for a glass of wine or the biscuit barrel. On the upside, healthy ways of dealing with stress like going for a brisk walk can help cut cancer risk.”
Don’t let stress get on top of you
While no-one is saying that cancer is nothing to worry about, it’s clear that stress doesn’t help. And obviously, we all have different ways of dealing with stress, but the key is to find coping mechanisms which don’t lead to bad habits and unhealthy lifestyles. The NHS has a handy checklist of the symptoms of stress, as well as a swathe of strategies to tackle whatever life throws at you when things don’t go to plan – such as being more active, staying socially busy whilst ensuring a sufficient amount of Me Time, stepping back and evaluating what exactly is winding you up, and staying positive.