Stress-Cancer Link Update: Biomarkers and Psychological Traits

BioPsychoSocial_Health.jpgJust when I was complaining that the hypothetical stress-cancer link is still controversial, a new study takes a new approach to look at this question.

Researchers at the University of Occupational and Environmental Health, Yahatanishi-ku, Kitakyushu, Japan, looked at a variety of psychosocial stressors and psychological coping mechanisms, and compared them with levels of a cancer biomarker, more specifically, a biomarker of cancer-related oxidative DNA damage, 8-hydroxydeoxyguanosine (8-OH-dG) (1). The subjects in this study weren’t already sick (a non-clinical sample).

The biggest psychological factors that appear to boost the cancer biomarker were tension-anxiety, depression-rejection, anger-hostility, fatigue, and confusion. Could that mean that relaxed, confident, motivated, loved, loving, vigorous, certainty is a cure for cancer? In that case, I’m going to become a televangelist. But which religion will work best for cancer proofing?

Forget I said that, my mind was wondering.

There’s more. The men’s biomarker was sensitive to whether they had recently lost a close family member. For women, poor stress coping was a culprit, especially if they were prone to wishful thinking.

Does The Secret give you cancer? Sorry, mind wandering again.

There were some interesting job factors that probably had a lot to do with the person’s mindstyle. Higher average working hours and a self-blame coping strategy were bad for biomarker levels.

But what if you love your job? Given the research that shows how valuable feelings of control are in the workplace, I’ll wager that work hours don’t count as much if you’re into your job. Kind of like calories that don’t count when you’re standing up, only the exact opposite. But put self-blame first, and maybe those extra hours are coming from not being assertive enough.

Follow Up on Genotypes

By the way, my last blog included the idea of tailoring lifestyle advice and treatment to specific genetic groups, based on some recent research and the adventurous approach of Craig Venter. Another recent research article from the Maastricht University and the Institute of Food Safety, Netherlands, put the idea so succinctly that I wanted to quote it here. In this case, they apply it to nutrition: “We conclude that genotyping for relevant polymorphisms enables selecting subgroups among the general population that benefit more of DNA damage-modulating effects of micronutrients (2).”

In other words, people can be grouped by their genotype (cluster of genetic traits), and some groups will benefit more from some micronutrients than others. I’ll wager that this will have important mental health applications down the road.


1. Masahiro I., Shinya A., Shoji N., Masato I., Masakazu M., Hiroshi K. (2001). Psychosocial factors as a potential trigger of oxidative DNA damage in human leukocytes. Cancer Science 92 (3), 367–376.

2. Wilms L. C., et. al. (2007). Impact of multiple genetic polymorphisms on effects of a 4-week blueberry juice intervention on ex vivo induced lymphocytic DNA damage in human volunteers. Carcinogenesis. Aug;28(8):1800-6. Epub 2007 Jun 29.

Robert A. Yourell, MA

Robert A. Yourell, MA, has extensive experience in the mental health and social services dating back to 1975. His training includes Ericksonian communication and hypnosis with John Grinder, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing with Francine Shapiro, PhD, Body Integrative Psychotherapy with Jack Rosenberg, PhD, and solution-focused psychotherapy. He provides free audio experiences on his site that include bilateral sound and Shimmering.
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