Inner Sidebar Right

Can Stress Cause Cancer? Part 4

Can Stress Cause Cancer? Part 4

June 2, 2014 | Author: Susan Silberstein PhD
Can-Stress-Cause-Cancer-4 - Beat Cancer Blog

This is my final blog about the many mechanisms by which stress can contribute to cancer. We’ve already discussed seven mechanisms; here are the last three.

Lymph Function –One of the most important systems of the body is a little-known system called the lymphatic system, which is closely related to the body’s circulatory, detoxification and immune systems. Your lymphatic system can be compared to a freeway, acting as the “transportation highway” of your immune system. When congested, nothing moves. Chronic stress impairs lymph circulation.

A primary waste elimination system, the lymph system contains over 600 “collection sites” called the lymph nodes and can affect every organ and cell in your body. Lymphocytes, manufactured in the lymph nodes, play an important role in the defense mechanism of the body. They help to filter out micro-organisms like bacteria, damaged cells, cellular debris, foreign substances, and cancerous cells.  Impaired lymph circulation means impaired waste elimination.

The main organ of the lymphatic system is the thymus gland, whose  primary function is to activate specific cells of the immune system called T-lymphocytes. Chronic stress affects thymus development and T cell maturation. Suppressed T-cell immunity can lead not only to cancers of the lymph system like lymphoma and leukemia but also to other cancers.

DNA Damage Stress is known to produce free radicals (oxidative stress).  Free radical pathology causes DNA damage, which in turn can contribute to cancerous changes.  Recently, researchers at Duke University Medical Center discovered a mechanism that helps to explain the stress response in terms of DNA damage. Elevated adrenaline levels, a hallmark of chronic stress, have been shown to cause detectable DNA damage, according to Robert J. Lefkowitz, MD, Professor of Medicine and Biochemistry at Duke.

Duke scientists found that chronic stress triggered certain biological pathways that ultimately resulted in accumulated DNA damage.  An infusion of an adrenaline-like compound for four weeks in the mice caused degradation of p53. P53 is a tumor suppressor protein and is considered a “guardian of the genome” — one that prevents genomic abnormalities and ultimately malignancies. The study showed that chronic stress leads to prolonged lowering of p53 levels, and that is likely the reason for the chromosomal irregularities found in these chronically stressed mice.

Acid-Alkaline Balance –Chronic stress can lead to excessively acidic body chemistry, another key component of cancer’s favorite environment. Cancer thrives in acidosis, or low pH. Because the body can only function properly when the internal environment is alkaline, a state of acidosis forces the body to borrow minerals like calcium, sodium, potassium and magnesium from vital organs and bones to buffer the acid. Over time, stress burns up our mineral buffers.

According to microbiologist Dr. Robert Young, author of The PH Miracle, over-acidity is often due to psychological stress. In fact, Young says, you can create two or three times more metabolic acids from your thoughts than from ingesting acidic foods such as dairy or animal protein! The negative emotions of anger, resentment, and fear are the most powerfully acidifying of all emotions. Stated Young, “When I have a client that’s in negative acid forming emotions, all the body fluids…will show a decline in the pH even if this person has been eating an alkaline diet.”

An imbalance in the body’s pH levels can affect all major body systems, especially the digestive, intestinal, circulatory and immune systems –which depend upon pH balance to function well.  Vital endocrine functions such as enzyme activity and hormone balance are completely dependent upon healthy pH levels.  For example, we know that Individuals who are severely stressed produce excess stomach acid. Acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), can cause Barrett’s esophagus, a known precursor of esophageal cancer.

PH imbalance also disturbs the ability of the blood to collect and transport oxygen around the body, and according to Dr. Otto Warburg, cancer is an oxygen deficiency disease. The more acidic we become, the harder it is for oxygen to be present and the more our biological terrain becomes anaerobic. Without adequate oxygenation, unfriendly bacteria, viruses, molds and fungus flourish.  Such overgrowth can add to the immune burden and lead to cancer.

Another contributor to cancer is chronic inflammation. Once it has begun, the condition of acidosis within the body is like a “descending spiral of stress.”  Acidity causes inflammation.  Inflammation causes pain.  Pain causes stress.  Stress causes acidity. Acidity causes inflammation….

In Summary — Stress can lead to cancer by disturbing the body’s homeostasis (or delicate balance), impairing immunity, nervous system function, hormone balance, digestion, elimination, respiration, circulation, and lymphatic flow; it can damage cellular DNA, and disturb acid-alkaline balance.   Unchecked stress can also lead to health-eroding behavioral changes like smoking or substance abuse, which can in turn lead to cancer.

So stress can affect every part of your body and lead to cancer in numerous interconnected and interdependent ways. But we all have stress, so we need to learn to manage it.  As Dr. David B. Samadi wrote, “You’ve heard the old adage before: ‘Manage your stress or your stress will manage you.’”   The most damaging stress is the stress that is continuous and ongoing for years. You can learn more about the most dangerous types of stress and how to manage them in both superficial and deep ways in my online holistic cancer educator training course.

Join the conversation. Create a topic in our forum.


[1] – Samadi D, Surprising ways stress affects your whole



[4] – Zivković I, Rakin A, Petrović-Djergović D, Miljković B, Mićić M. The effects of chronic stress on
thymus innervation in the adult rat. Acta Histochem. 2005;106(6):449-58. Epub 2005 Jan 12.

[5] – Nature online, Aug. 21,


[7] Young, Robert O and Young, Shelley Redford, The PH Miracle, New York: Warner, 2002