I have often hypothesized that stress can escalate the rate of prostate cancer progression, leading to earlier deaths. I work actively to find ways to eliminate stress from my immediate environment and from my life.

I have told the story many times about two men who were members of my weekly Malecare prostate cancer support group. Both of these men had very high stress jobs on Wall Street when they were diagnosed with recurrent prostate cancer. Both left their jobs, slowed down their life and did an excellent job in minimizing their stress levels. Both individuals also were able to control their cancer progression and seemed to push their cancer into being just a chronic disease.

Unfortunately, after a year or so, they both were lured back to the Street and became engulfed in high levels of stress. They both quickly became very ill as their prostate cancer progressed in leaps and bounds . Their tumors spread out of control and both died from advanced prostate cancer in a short amount of time.

Is this scientific proof that stress causes prostate cancer progression, no it is not, but it has convinced me of the significant negativite impact of stress. I strive to eliminate stress as best I can. I look at a situation and figure out how best to ignore any part that will lead to stress. I have become an advocate of and expert at stress avoidance.

A recent study published in Cancer (published online August 24, 2009), a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, concluded that cancer patients whose marriage disintegrated and ended in separation at the time of diagnosis do not live as long as widowed, divorced, and never married patients. The authors claimed that the stress associated with marital separation may compromise an individual’s immune system and lead to a greater susceptibility to cancer.

Much other research has shown that personal relationships have a significant role in physical health—specifically that good relationships are beneficial and poor relationships are deleterious. Also, many studies of cancer prognosis have found that patients who are married live longer than those who are single.

The researchers assessed the 5 and 10 year survival rates of 3.79 million patients diagnosed with cancer between 1973 and 2004. They found that married patients had the highest 5 and 10 year survival rates, at 63.3 percent and 57.5 percent respectively. At the other end of the spectrum, separation carried the poorest survival outcome. Specifically, the 5 and 10 year survival rates for separated patients were 45.4 percent and 36.8 percent respectively. The 5 and 10 year survival rates of widowed patients were the next lowest, at 47.2 percent and 40.9 percent respectively; for divorced patients, the respective survival rates were 52.4 percent and 45.6 percent; and for never married patients, they were 57.3 percent and 51.7 percent.

The authors hypothesized that the stress of separation may compromise the immune system and thus create a greater vulnerability to cancer. While additional research is needed, the researchers say certain interventions might help patients today. For example, psychological interventions to reduce stress may impact the immune system and improve survival. Additionally, oncologists and their staff need to take the time to evaluate and support the spouses (care givers) of cancer patients. They need to always have available resources for both the cancer survivor and their family. This is as important in extending survival as are the drugs themselves.

Journal reference:
1. Gwen C. Sprehn, Joanna E. Chambers, Andrew J. Saykin, Andre Konski, and Peter A. S. Johnstone. Decreased cancer survival in individuals separated at time of diagnosis: critical period for cancer pathophysiology? Cancer, Online August 24, 2009; In Print November 1, 2009 DOI: 10.1002/cncr.24547

Joel T Nowak MA, MSW