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Relationship Between Cancer and Stress

It has always been suspected that a relationship existed between the development of cancer and the presence of stress in one’s life.  The difficulty was in establishing the nature of the relationship.  Was it a direct or an indirect relationship?  The main difficulty centred around the understanding of the terms, stress and stressors and their subjective status.  Not ever stressor causes stress in equal measure amongst all people.  Put simply what is stressful for one person may not be stressful or as stressful for another person.

However, some recent research has pointed to a possible mechanism that could link stress to cancer formation.  It has long been recognised that epinephrine (adrenaline) and Cortisol (hydrocortisone) are increased at times of stress.  This is the “fight or flight” response and it is a basic part of our survival mechanism.  However, long-term elevation of stress hormones could bring about cell changes that predispose to cancer formation.  These stress hormones are believed to alter important processes in cells that help protect against cancer formation.  This evidence was published by Antoni, M.H., Lutgendorf, S.K., Cole, S.W. et al in Nature Cancer Review (2006) 6(3), p.240-248 in a publication titled “The influence of Behavioural Factors on Tumor Biology Pathways and Mechanisms”.

From an acupuncture point of view tumor formation is often considered to be the aggregation of Qi as opposed to its dispersal and free flow.  Factors such as Liver Qi stagnation over a long time may cause their Qi to aggregate and fail to move blood so that “blood masses” form.  These blood masses may be related to the western medical understanding of tumor.

Rarefied Qi, the Qi of mental activity for example the Qi of a perception of entrapment can over time become the much more solid Qi of a blood mass.  Therefore an early preventative treatment of cancer may be to move Qi if it is stagnating and relax the patient so that entrapment is not experienced or recognised as such.  The point Neiguan, PC6 would be useful in this situation because of the developing understanding between stress and cancer and because of acupunctures undoubted ability to alleviate stress.

Because of these developing new concepts an exciting new experiment is taking place in the cancer charity A.R.C. cancer support.  A.R.C. is a charitable trust set up in 1994 to offer professional support to men and women affected by cancer and for their carers.  A.R.C. offers a range of holistic and complementary therapies, all of which are offered free of charge.  The author of this article is a trustee.  A.R.C. owns two houses in Dublin, one in Eccles Street and the other on the South Circular Road.  Acupuncture has been made available in both houses in recent months with a view to assisting in the management of stress in the belief that this will lead to better outcomes for clients with cancer.  It is worth pointing out that A.R.C. is substantially H.S.E. funded and that the Board of Directors is composed of western medical doctors and people from other professional disciplines.  Acupuncture was introduced into A.R.C. by unanimous agreement and we in A.R.C. believe this to be ground breaking and an excellent example of an integrated medical approach to cancer.

Vincent Carroll
M.D.  M.P.H.  Dip Acu.

ARC Trustee
Director Lansdowne College of Acupuncture

Lansdowne College, Fairfield House, Newbridge Avenue, Dublin 4.
Telephone: (01) 6601487
Mobile: (087) 2635161 or (087) 9973118

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