Stress can hasten the spread of breast cancer to the bones, research suggests.

Studies of mice showed that responses to stress made it easier for tumours to take root in the bone.

By dampening down part of the body's "fight or flight" mechanism, scientists were able to prevent the cancer invasion.

stress breast cancer spread risk

Could stress speed up the spread of breast cancer?

The findings raise the possibility of common drugs called beta-blockers being used to prevent the potentially lethal migration of breast cancer to the bone.

Beta-blockers are normally used to treat angina chest pains, irregular heart beat, and high blood pressure.

Dr Florent Elefteriou, director of the Centre for Bone Biology at Vanderbilt University in the US, said: "If something as simple as a beta blocker could prevent cancer metastasis to bone, this would impact the treatment of millions of patients worldwide."

Previous research had shown that the sympathetic nervous system, which plays a key role in the "fight-or-flight" response to stress, can stimulate bone remodelling.


It also employed some of the same signalling molecules implicated in breast cancer bone metastasis.

"We came to the hypothesis that sympathetic activation might remodel the bone environment and make it more favourable for cancer cells to metastasise there," said Dr Elefteriou.

Clinical evidence showed that breast cancer patients suffering from stress or depression after their initial treatment had shorter survival times.

To test the theory, the scientists traced human breast cancer cells bearing fluorescent "tags" that they injected into the hearts of mice.

When the mice were given a drug that mimicked sympathetic nervous system activation, more cancer cells travelling through the bloodstream established tumours in the bones.

Mice that were stressed by being physically restrained showed the same response.

Treating the stressed mice with propranolol, a type of beta blocker, reduced the number of bone lesions.

Feeling stressed? Try these herbs...

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  • Panax Ginseng (Asian Ginseng)

    Panax ginseng is perhaps one of the most studied medicinal herbs in the world -- and might be one of the most widely used. It's used to promote a <a href="" target="_hplink">sense of well-being</a> and endurance, as an <a href="" target="_hplink">anti-depressant,</a> for <a href="" target="_hplink">memory </a>and<a href="" target="_hplink"> calmness, for energy</a> (it's one of the ingredients in most energy drinks)... and even as an aphrodisiac! Panax Ginseng has been used in China for more than 5,000 years -- and in 300 A.D., the Chinese demand for Ginseng was one of the drivers of the creation of international trade!

  • Rhodiola

    Rhodiola -- also called "golden root" -- is <a href="" target="_hplink">used mostly to treat </a><a href="" target="_hplink">stress,</a> <a href="" target="_hplink">depression</a> and fatigue, and is also believed to increase <a href="" target="_hplink">mental performance.</a> 
Used for centuries in Asia and Scandinavia, Rhodiola is still relatively new to the Western market, but its popularity is growing, in large part because of what an incredibly versatile -- and relatively inexpensive -- herb it is. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">Scott Loarie</a></em>

  • Holy Basil

    Holy Basil (a cousin of the garden-variety "sweet basil" you use in your pasta sauce) comes from the lowlands of India. It's called "holy" because it is believed by Hindus to be the avatar for the goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealthy, wisdom, and light. Holy Basil has a wide variety of uses, stemming back thousands of years. Within the tradition of Ayurvedic medicine, <a href="" target="_hplink">it is used to</a> <a href="" target="_hplink">alleviate stress</a>, headaches, colds, digestive problems and <a href="" target="_hplink">inflammation</a>. Recent studies have also shown that it's also a powerful antioxidant and may even be able to reduce blood glucose levels and cholesterol.

  • Ashwagandha

    Ashwangandha is one of the premier restorative herbs in Ayurvedic medicine. It is known to help stabilize mood and support optimal physical and <a href="" target="_hplink">emotional well-being.</a> It is also known to improve memory and focus and endurance. It is believed to <a href="" target="_hplink">reduce the effects of stress</a> on the body.

  • He Shou Wu

    He shou wu is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine as a tonic to slow down the aging process. It is a restorative herb, calming to the nervous system, and has also been shown to <a href="" target="_hplink">promote hair growth</a>, alleviate insomnia, and may aid with <a href="" target="_hplink">learning and memory</a>. The herb is named after a Chinese man, He Shou Wu, who was old, impotent, and an alcoholic. He fell asleep in the forest one day, drunk, and woke beneath two, beautiful, intertwining herbs. He interpreted it as a sign, ground up the root of the vines and took it. According to legend, after doing so, he became possessed by incredible vitality, grew back a full head of thick hair, developed a strong, youthful physique and soon married and fathered several children. <em>Photo by <a href=" Garden, Guangxi, China.htm" target="_hplink"></a></em>

  • Schizandra

    Long used in traditional Chinese medicine, the schizandra berry has a <a href="" target="_hplink">wide variety of uses</a>: It promotes liver function, supports the immune system, relieves anxiety, increases energy, and it can improve mental clarity. It's sometimes called the "five flavors berry," because it tastes sour, bitter, sweet, salty and acrid all at once. <em>Photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">Green Dragon Superfoods</a></em>

  • Reishi Mushroom

    Traditional Chinese medicine uses reishi to "calm the spirit." Reishi, (literally "supernatural" mushrooms) have been used for more than 2,000 years, making them perhaps the oldest mushroom to be used medicinally. They can be helpful to reduce anxiety, alleviate insomnia, combat fatigue, and lower blood pressure. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">frankenstoen</a></em>

The research appears in the online journal Public Library of Science Biology.

Could Pistachio Nuts Protect You Against Cancer?

Sympathetic nervous system activation increased bone levels of a signalling molecule called RANKL, said the scientists.

RANKL is known to promote the formation of osteoclasts, cells that break down bone tissue. It is also involved in cell migration.

Dr Elefteriou's team showed that the transport of breast cancer cells to the bones depended on RANKL.

Take a look at other life-changing breast cancer breakthroughs...

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  • Stress Speeds Spread Of Breast Cancer, Suggests Study

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