Stress – Mental and Emotional Cause of Cancer

How can you live a stress free life and prevent cancer and other health problems? By learning to manage your cortisol stress hormone levels and by putting the mental/emotional stress in your life in the proper perspective. Once you know how to balance the physical factors of sleep, diet and exercise along with the mental and emotional stresses in your life then you will restore health in your body and mind. This is critical in any alternative cancer treatment.

The question is how does stress cause cancer?

To answer this, one must look at what the stress response does physiologically in the body. It is a fact that high stress is a major contributing factor to cancer and many other diseases. Hans Selye, the father of stress research, said there are two types of stress, distress and eustress. Distress is a longer, more damaging response which negatively affects the organs, glands and systems including the immune system. Eustress is a short term beneficial stimulus to the system. If you run up and down the stairs ten times you feel invigorated. Now if you run up and down the stairs one thousand times you are exhausted and totally drained, so eustress is health boosting whereas distress is health depleting.

The stress response is controlled by the brain via the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal axis or HPA axis. The hypothalamus, which has been called the brain of the brain, is the part of your brain that senses biochemical changes similar to the thermostat in your house. If certain biochemicals go high or low, it triggers the brain to respond. The hypothalamus does so by telling the master hormone gland, the pituitary, to send messages to the adrenal glands to secrete a hormone called cortisol. When cortisol is at the proper level it is anti-inflammatory and promotes health. When cortisol goes too high with acute stress or too low with chronic stress, it causes your immune and digestive systems to shut down, inflammation to increase, blood sugar to rise, hormones to go out of balance and bones to become osteoporotic. When cortisol stays high or low it predisposes you to cancer and many other diseases.

What causes cortisol to go out of balance?

  1. Mental/emotional stress (distress)
  2. Lack of total sleep (8-9.5 hours) and pre-midnight sleep (four hours is ideal)
  3. Diet high in sugar, starch or acid forming foods
  4. Too little or too much exercise

Cancer can form when cortisol becomes chronically high or low because adrenal exhaustion causes immune system suppression and your immune system is what keeps the individual cancer cells (which everyone has), from growing into colonies called tumors.

The most important stress management plan starts with proper sleep, diet, and exercise along with learning how to change your perception of the situation. When you change your perception you can change your reality and your health. To reduce the mental/emotional distress one must live fully in the moment without spending time thinking about the “if only I would have” past or the “if only I could” future. If you had excruciating pain in your body, what does your mind say? “I am going to die if I do not get out of this pain”. But is this really true? Can you endure the pain for one second? The answer is yes and this is how you will endure any storm in your life, by living one moment at a time instead of living in the past or the future. This type of living keeps your cortisol and immune system in balance and keeps you healthy in mind and body.


  1. Stress without Distress- H. Selye , Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 1st edition (June 1974)
  2. The Neuroendocrine Impact of Chronic Stress on Cancer
    Premal H. Thaker and Anil K. Sood. Semin Cancer Biol. 2008 June; 18(3): 164–170.
  3. Increased serum cortisol levels are associated with high tumour grade in patients with renal cell carcinoma
    Rasmuson T, Ljungberg B, Grankvist K, Jacobsen J, Olsson T. Acta Oncol. 2001;40(1):83-7.
  4. Interleukin-6 levels and HPA axis activation in breast cancer patients with major depressive disorder.
    Soygur H, Palaoglu O, Akarsu ES, Cankurtaran ES, Ozalp E, Turhan L, Ayhan IH. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2007 Aug 15;31(6):1242-7. Epub 2007 May 24.