Experts question how stress might affect breast cancer

By Kathleen Corso - Special Projects Producer

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. - When Amelia Pullium found a lump in her breast in the spring, she didn't waste any time getting in to see her doctor. 

"I'm very conscientious about my health," she said.

But Pullium was stunned when doctors told her she had an aggressive form of breast cancer.

"The lump was not only in one breast, it was in the other one and it had spread to my liver," she said.

It was a stunning finding for a woman who had no known risk factors for breast cancer.

"There's no history in my family, it's not genetic, I don't smoke, I don't drink and I have an active lifestyle, yet I got this," Pullium said.

The one thing she never considered was the compound effect of stress throughout her life.

"This is something we're looking closely at, and whether there is a relationship between stress and breast cancer and if so, what is the driver behind it, what is the cause and how does stress affect cancer cells?" said Dr. Zenia  Nahleh, an oncologist with the Cleveland Clinic Florida in Weston, Florida. 

Along with whether stress affects the development of cancer, Nahleh said more needs to be understood about how having stress can affect the outcome of treatment therapies.

"The cancer cells may have some receptors, protein that communicate with stress hormones and if you can block this relationship between the hormones and the cancer cells perhaps over time, the cancer cells will decrease," Nahleh said.

The research is still in its infancy and not yet ready for clinical application, but it's opening new doors to great understand of cancer and it's development.

For her part, Pullium is taking steps to reduce stress in her life through daily meditation practice.
"That is something I see that is starting to change me in a way that is productive," she said.

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