Does Stress Increase Risk for Uterine Cancer?

Author:  Katrina Outland
Institution:  Hawaii Pacific University
Date:  July 2004

Researchers from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center have found a link between social stress and the risk of uterine cancer. The study, which also reports the effects of moderate alcohol intake on cancer risks in postmenopausal women, was reported in the June issue of Menopause.

Author Carol Shively, professor of comparative medicine at Wake Forest Baptist, said this research illustrates the need to consider more closely the effects of social status on cancer risk in women.

Shively and colleagues studied breast tissue and endometrial, or uterine-lining, tissue for the effects of stress and alcohol. They allowed postmenopausal monkeys to form natural social structures, with a dominant-to-subordinate hierarchy, and found the subordinate monkeys experienced changes in their endometrial tissue, suggesting an increased risk for cancer.

"We know that lower social status is stressful for both humans and monkeys," said Shively. "This study shows that in monkeys, social stress is associated with cellular changes that may increase endometrial cancer risk."

Co-author Kathleen Grant added: "Social stress, perhaps caused by increases in social isolation and hostile social experiences … may place postmenopausal women at risk for breast and endometrial cancer."

The researchers also found changes in the breast tissue of the subordinate monkeys, but they were not as significant as those in the uterine tissue.

In addition to stress, Shively and colleagues studied the effects of alcohol on the tissue. A group of monkeys were trained to drink two alcoholic beverages each day for 26 months. Compared to another group that no alcohol intake, this group showed no difference in cancer risk.

"Moderate alcohol consumption in postmenopausal women not taking hormone therapy may not be harmful to health," said Shively. She also pointed out that these results may not apply to pre-menopausal women or postmenopausal women who are taking hormone therapy.