Stress and Breast Cancer in minority women

An article published in the Chicago Tribune discussed the findings from a recent study presented at the American Association for Cancer Research which found an association between high stress levels and aggressive forms of breast cancer, and that black and Latina women tend to have higher stress levels than white women.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago, surveyed 989 women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer within the last three months about their stress levels. The results showed that women with higher levels of stress were 38% more likely to have estrogen receptor-negative breast cancers.  For these types of cancers, medications such as Tamoxifen, raloxifene, Arimidex are not helpful. Furthermore, the findings also showed that these women were 18% more likely to have high-grade tumors, which tend to be more aggressive. The study also found that on average black and Latina women had higher stress scores than white patients.

The study researchers acknowledged that it was not possible to determine if high stress levels existed prior to being diagnosed with breast cancer or if high stress levels are the result of being diagnosed with breast cancer.  According to Garth Rauscher, lead researcher, “It’s not clear what’s driving this association. It may be that the level of stress in these patients’ lives influenced tumor aggressiveness. It may be that being diagnosed with a more aggressive tumor, with a more worrisome diagnosis and more stressful treatments, influenced reports of stress. It may be that both of these are playing a role in the association. We don’t know the answer to that question” .