Stress May Speed Up Skin Cancer

Living a high-stress lifestyle may make people more vulnerable to the damaging effects of the sun, according to a new study.

Researchers found mice exposed to constant stress and ultraviolet light (search) developed skin cancers in half the time than those exposed to UV light alone.

If more studies show the same applies to humans, researchers say stress-reducing programs, such as yoga and meditation, may help people at risk for skin cancer stay cancer-free longer.

“Stress-reduction programs usually are a good option for many people, but we think they may be more important for individuals at high-risk for skin cancer,” says Francisco Tausk, MD, associate professor of dermatology at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, in a news release.

The findings appear in the December issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Affect of Stress on Skin Cancer

In the study, researchers exposed 40 mice to the scent of fox urine (the mouse equivalent of major stress) and to large amounts of UV light. Another group of mice was exposed to UV light alone.

The first skin cancer tumor developed in one of the stressed mice in only eight weeks. Mice exposed to UV alone didn’t start to develop tumors until at least 13 weeks later.

After 21 weeks of exposure, 14 of the 40 stressed mice had at least one skin cancer tumor compared with only two of the nonstressed mice. Most of the skin cancers were squamous cell (search) skin cancers, a type of nonmelanoma cancer, which has the potential to spread to other parts of the body.

Researchers say they plan to conduct more tests to determine how exposure to stress influences skin cancer development.

“There’s a lot of evidence pointing to the negative effects of chronic stress, which dampens our immune system and impacts various aspects of our health,” says Tausk. “But, to help create solid treatment strategies, we need a better understanding of the mechanisms of how stressors affect skin cancer development.”

By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

SOURCES: Parker, L. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, December 2004; vol 51: pp 919-922. News release, Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.