Can Stress Cause Us To Get Cancer?

by Doc Orman, M.D.

cancer surgeryAs a physician and a stress expert, another question I’m frequently asked is whether stress can cause us to develop cancer.  As I shared in my last post—Can Stress Cause Heart Disease?—these types of cause-effect questions are very difficult to answer definitively.

The reason for this is that science is not “an exact science,” and because there are so many factors that come into play, both for cancer and heart disease, that it is almost impossible to design a study to quantify the role that any single factor, such as stress, plays or doesn’t play in the development of health problems.

Now there is a good bit of research about the potential role of stress in causing human cancers, but once again, as with heart disease, there is much more we don’t know about this relationship than we do know (or think we know).

There are clearly some health problems that are highly correlated with stress and some that are not correlated at all.  For example, we have little evidence that brain tumors, or multiple sclerosis, or gallbladder disease is caused by stress. On the other hand, there is very good evidence that for some people asthma exacerbations can be linked to acute stress, high blood pressure can be made worse by chronic stress, and even many common conditions such as headaches, sinusitis and even the common cold can be associated with stress in some (but not all) human beings.

There is some indirect evidence that cancer and stress may be related. For example, it is known that stress can adversely affect the functioning of various components of our immune system.  And since defects in our immune system may be one of the important causes of cancer, it is logical to assume that stress could play a role in causing cancer in this way.  But the jury is still out on this.

Once again, there is more we don’t know about this question than we do know. The problem is that cancer usually takes many years to develop, and with so many different factors or combination of factors that might be playing a causative role, that it’s very difficult for medical scientists to sort this all out and to discover direct Cause-effect relationships with any degree of certainty.

As with heart disease, I personally believe that stress probably can play a role in causing cancer in some individuals, but I have no way of knowing this for sure.  And there’s also knowing which people who have high levels of stress today are going to develop cancer many years down the road.

So once again, the best bet is to reduce stress in your life wherever and however you can, so you lower your risk of developing cancer, heart disease and many other serious health problems.

NOTE: For more information about my unique approach to eliminating stress, please visit

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