Stress and relapse of breast cancer.

BMJ 1989; 298 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.298.6669.291 (Published 4 February 1989)
Cite this as: BMJ 1989;298:291
  1. A. J. Ramirez,
  2. T. K. Craig,
  3. J. P. Watson,
  4. I. S. Fentiman,
  5. W. R. North,
  6. R. D. Rubens
  1. Department of Psychiatry, Guy's Hospital, London.

    Abstract

    To elucidate the association between stressful life events and the development of cancer the influence of life stress on relapse in operable breast cancer was examined in matched pairs of women in a case-control study. Adverse life events and difficulties occurring during the postoperative disease free interval were recorded in 50 women who had developed their first recurrence of operable breast cancer and during equivalent follow up times in 50 women with operable breast cancer in remission. The cases and controls were matched for the main physical and pathological factors known to be prognostic in breast cancer and sociodemographic variables that influence the frequency of life events and difficulties. Severely threatening life events and difficulties were significantly associated with the first recurrence of breast cancer. The relative risk of relapse associated with severe life events was 5.67 (95% confidence interval 1.57 to 37.20), and the relative risk associated with severe difficulties was 4.75 (1.58 to 19.20). Life events and difficulties not rated as severe were not related to relapse. Experiencing a non-severe life event was associated with a relative risk of 2.0 (0.62 to 7.47), and experiencing a non-severe difficulty was associated with a relative risk of 1.13 (0.38 to 3.35). These results suggest a prognostic association between severe life stressors and recurrence of breast cancer, but a larger prospective study is needed for confirmation.

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