A Qualitative Study on the Relationship Between Stress, Trauma, and Breast Cancer Development
About the Study
Can stress and trauma lead to breast cancer? This is the question that IONS Director of Research, Dr. Helané Wahbeh, along with researchers Erica Niebauer, Nina Fry-Kizler, and Lisa A. Auster-Gussman set out to explore in the IONS study on the causes of breast cancer. The participants included 2,041 women between the ages of 35-90 in the United States, 1,041 breast cancer patients (cases), and 1,000 women who had not had breast cancer (controls). The research group used a variety of statistical tools to analyze data.
Participants completed questionnaires on their basic medical history and demographic data, such as age at first live birth, major health problems, diethylstilbestrol use, hormone therapy, education, income and race, and breast cancer status. They also shared about their lifetime trauma, including physical, emotional, and energy trauma experiences in early and adult life, focusing on:
- major interpersonal conflict in both childhood and adulthood,
- patterns of stressful life events in childhood and adulthood,
- ideas about why breast cancer developed,
- relation between emotional stress and physical disease,
- posttraumatic growth and meaning-making.
Participants reported a perceived connection between breast cancer development and stressful life events. In other words, participants believed that stress can lead to development of breast cancer. In addition, the results suggest that adverse events in childhood that are then experienced again in adulthood may increase breast cancer risk.
Two life events — a competitive environment and severe human suffering — demonstrated a relationship of first occurring as a child, then again as an adult, with a subsequent breast cancer diagnosis. Overall, the results support the idea that adverse events in childhood that are then experienced again in adulthood may increase breast cancer risk.
It’s important to note that while this finding highlights important areas to explore in future studies, it does not find a direct causal link between stress and breast cancer. Instead, it finds an association between the two. That is, women with higher stress are more likely to develop breast cancer, but it’s not yet clear that the stress actually causes breast cancer.
If you’re interested in learning more about the possible link between stress and breast cancer, you can read a pre-print of Dr. Helané Wahbeh’s entire paper.
Niebauer, E. Fry, N., Auster-Gussman, L.A., Wahbeh, H. Patient Perspectives on the Causes of Breast Cancer: A Qualitative Study on the Relationship Between Stress, Trauma, and Breast Cancer Development, 11 March 2021, PREPRINT (Version 1) available at Research Square. doi.org/10.21203/rs.3.rs-312043/v1