Does stress speed up the onset of skin cancer? The answer, in mice anyway, appears to be "yes." Scientists at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center say that chronic stress may speed up the process in those at high-risk for the disease. Their new study, published in the December issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, shows that mice exposed to stressful conditions and cancer-causing UV light develop skin cancers in less than half the time it took for non-stressed mice to grow tumors.
The Hopkins investigators say that if what they are seeing in mice has relevance in man, stress-reducing programs like yoga and meditation may help those at high risk for skin cancer stay healthy longer. "Theres 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 Francisco Tausk, M.D., associate professor of dermatology at Johns Hopkins and director of the study. "But, to help create solid treatment strategies, we need a better understanding of the mechanisms of how stressors affect skin cancer development."
Tausk exposed 40 mice to the scent of fox urine - the mouse equivalent of big-time stress - and large amounts of UV light. The first skin tumor in one of the mice appeared after eight weeks of testing. Mice exposed only to UV light began developing tumors 13 weeks later. By 21 weeks of testing, 14 of the 40 stressed mice had at least one tumor, and two non-stressed mice had tumors. Most tumors were squamous cell skin cancers, also known as non-melanoma cancers, but which have the potential to spread to other parts of the body.
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