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.

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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="http://nccam.nih.gov/health/asianginseng/ataglance.htm" target="_hplink">sense of well-being</a> and endurance, as an <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22335772" target="_hplink">anti-depressant,</a> for <a href="http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/1000.html" target="_hplink">memory </a>and<a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20737519" 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="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22228617" target="_hplink">used mostly to treat </a><a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20378318" target="_hplink">stress,</a> <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21601431" target="_hplink">depression</a> and fatigue, and is also believed to increase <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21036578" 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="http://www.flickr.com/photos/55368994@N06/6062957780/" 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="http://www.queenofherbs.com/html/stress_disorders.html" target="_hplink">it is used to</a> <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17922070" target="_hplink">alleviate stress</a>, headaches, colds, digestive problems and <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20509321" 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="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11194174" target="_hplink">emotional well-being.</a> It is also known to improve memory and focus and endurance. It is believed to <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16846833" 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="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21419834" target="_hplink">promote hair growth</a>, alleviate insomnia, and may aid with <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20951128" 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="http://www.nutraherbalsolutions.com/Herb Garden, Guangxi, China.htm" target="_hplink">nutraherbalsolutions.com</a></em>

  • Schizandra

    Long used in traditional Chinese medicine, the schizandra berry has a <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18515024" 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="http://www.greendragonsuperfoods.com/" 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="http://www.flickr.com/photos/frankenstoen/3732807582/" 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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    A bra which hope to detect breast cancer in wearers, before it can be seen in traditional scans, has shown promising early results. In a series of clinical trials, the bra successfully detected over 90% of breast tumours at a very early stage. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/10/25/breast-cancer-detect-bra_n_2016369.html" target="_hplink">Click here to read full story</a>

  • Women With Bigger Breasts Have Higher Risk Of Breast Cancer, Finds Genetic Study

    According to new research, a genetic link has been made between breast size and breast cancer risks. Medical News Today reports that genetics company 23andMe has identified seven single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) - or genetic variations - significantly associated with breast size. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/07/05/health-bigger-breasts-higher-cancer-risk_n_1650466.html" target="_hplink">Click here to read full story</a>

  • Stress Speeds Spread Of Breast Cancer, Suggests Study

    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. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/07/18/health-stress-speeds-spread-breast-cancer-women_n_1682069.html" target="_hplink">Click here to read full story</a>

  • Breast Cancer Screening Led To 4,000 Women Undergoing Unnecessary Treatment - Study

    Breast cancer screening leads to thousands of women undergoing unnecessary treatment despite saving lives, according to an independent review. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/10/30/breast-cancer-4000-women_n_2042664.html" target="_hplink">Click here to read full story</a>

  • Breast Cancer Treatment That 'Melts' Tumours

    Cancer Research Technology (CRT) has launched a spin-out company that will develop a next-generation of High Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU) surgery to treat - and melt - cancer tumours. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/01/25/new-cancer-tumour-melting-device-coming-soon_n_1231308.html?ref=uk-lifestyle" target="_hplink">Click here to read the full story...</a></strong>

  • New Genetic Test Could Save Thousands From Chemotherapy

    Almost half of women with the most common form of early breast cancer could be spared chemotherapy thanks to a genetic test, research suggests. The Oncotype DX test involves the examination of genes taken from a sample of a tumour removed during surgery. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/12/16/genetic-breast-cancer-test-to-cut-chemotherapy_n_1153475.html" target="_hplink">Click here to read the full story...</a></strong>

  • Breast Cancer Could Be Detected In Seconds Using Anti-Landmine Technology

    Breast cancer could be detected in seconds using new, anti-landmine technology. British scientists have developed a revolutionary breast-screening system that uses anti-landmine technology to detect cancer in seconds. The radio-wave scanner is safer, cheaper and less painful than traditional mammogram X-rays, and unlike the current system, can be used on women of all ages. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/12/02/new-scan-detects-breast-cancer-in-seconds-anti-landmine-technology_n_1125166.htm" target="_hplink">Click here to read the full story...</a></strong>

  • Low GI Diet Reduces Breast Cancer Risk

    According to new scientific research, eating a low glycemic index (GI) diet could drastically decrease the risks of breast cancer. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/01/16/low-gi-diet-may-reduce-breast-cancer-risks_n_1208477.html " target="_hplink">Click here to read the full story...</a></strong>

  • Fresh Doubts Over HRT Treatment And Breast Cancer Risks

    The controversial link between hormone replacement therapy and breast cancer has resurfaced, with health experts claiming that there is no solid evidence that HRT increases breast cancer risks. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/01/16/fresh-doubts-over-hrt-treeatment-breast-cancer_n_1208863.html" target="_hplink">Click here to read the full story...</a></strong>

  • New Paraben 'Link' To Breast Cancer Risks

    New scientific evidence has indicated that common preservative chemicals found in underarm antiperspirants and thousands of other everyday products, can be detected in breast cancer tumours. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/01/12/paraben-chemical-linked-to-breast-cancer_n_1202144.html" target="_hplink">Click here to read the full story...</a></strong>

  • Cancer Drugs Might Help Tumours Spread, Rather Than Preventing Them

    Cancer drugs that are designed to shrink tumours by cutting off the supply to their blood may be doing the opposite and helping them spread to other parts of the body, a study has warned. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/01/17/cancer-drugs-might-help-tumours-spread_n_1210647.html" target="_hplink">Click here to read the full story..</a>.</strong>

  • Boiling Breast Cancer Tumours 'Kills Them In Minutes'

    A new treatment for breast cancer has been discovered after scientists found that breast tumours can be killed in minutes - by boiling them <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/11/22/boiling-breast-cancer-tumours-kills-them-in-minutes_n_1107632.html" target="_hplink">Click here to read the full story...</a></strong>

  • Alcohol Warning To Women With Family History Of Breast Cancer

    Women who have a strong family history of breast cancer should avoid drinking alcohol, a new study suggests. Health experts warn that women whose mothers, grandmothers and aunts have had breast cancer, are more than twice as likely to develop the disease than non-drinkers. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/11/15/alcohol-warning-to-women-with-family-history-breast-cancer_n_1094409.html" target="_hplink">Click here to read the full story...</a></strong>

  • Britain Lagging Behind In Breast Cancer Survival Rate

    The UK is lagging behind other countries on survival rates for breast, bowel and cervical cancer and has much higher hospital admission rates for asthma, research shows. <strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/11/24/britain-fall-behind-on-cancer-survival-rates_n_1111590.html " target="_hplink">Click here to read the full story...</a></strong>