“It’s like a cloud over me all the time.”
“I worry that this holiday or camping trip may be my last.”
These are some ways you described your fear of cancer recurrence during my recent survey. You’re not alone: research demonstrates that a convincing majority of cancer survivors are affected, often for years after their cancer diagnosis.
No one wants to repeat cancer treatment if they can help it, and no one wants to receive news about something potentially threatening to their own life. The problem is that most often, fear of recurrence isn’t based on an event that’s actually happening. It occurs when you have thoughts about what could happen, even if right now you’re well.
Fearful thoughts activate your body’s stress response. Under stress, your body releases a soup of hormones (glucocorticoids and catecholamines) that put you into a hyper-alert state, making your muscles tense and your blood pressure rise. Sleep is all but impossible, and your wired mind only wants to focus on the source of the stress.
Research shows that the hormones produced in that wired, worried state are capable of accelerating cancer growth. Animal and now human studies have found more rapid tumor growth in stressed subjects due to increased VEGF and IL-6 levels (which “feed” tumors by increasing their blood supply). Tumors of stressed subjects also show increased expression of genes responsive to stress hormones; that is, their tumors respond more efficiently to the presence of stress hormones, and grow more quickly as a result.
The bottom line is that too much time spent in fear can invite the very thing you’re fearful of: more cancer. Having reliable ways to cope with stress – including fear of recurrence – is an important part of your cancer prevention plan.
Stay tuned – I’ll be offering a new resource to deal with fear of cancer recurrence in early 2015. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you: leave a comment below and tell me:
- What (if anything) triggers fear of recurrence in you?
- What have you found helpful in dealing with fear of cancer recurrence?
- What would it mean to you to be free of the fear of cancer recurrence?