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Apr 25

Anxiety Increases Cancer Severity


ScienceDaily (Apr. 25, 2012) — Worrywarts, fidgety folk and the naturally nervy may have a real cause for concern: accelerated cancer. In a new study led by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine, anxiety-prone mice developed more severe cancer then their calm counterparts.

“Anxiety may be defined as increased sensitivity to physically existent, or non-existent but perceived or anticipated, stressors,” said stress expert and immunologist Firdaus Dhabhar, PhD, first author of the study.

Dhabhar’s previous work has investigated the balance of “good” and “bad” stress. Short-lived stressors — like being chased by a lion, or giving a weighty presentation to your boss — can actually boost your immune system by preparing your body for battle. But constant stress, such as caring for a disabled loved one, breaks down the body’s ability to fight off disease over time, he said.

The question is: How much stress is too much? Because stress responses vary between individuals, Dhabhar turned to understanding the link between base-level anxiety and actual stress.

For mice, stress comes from striking a balance between exploring to find food and mates, and protecting themselves from danger. Highly anxious mice, Dhabhar hypothesized, would err on the side of avoiding danger. He and his research team placed hairless mice on a raised, cross-shaped track, which had one walkway enclosed by walls and the other open. Then they measured how often each mouse ventured to the open arms. Likewise, he placed them in a large box, half lit and half dark, and noted those that spent the most time in the dark side.

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