Study Links Chronic Stress, Sun and Skin Cancer Risk  

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Posted: 5/4/2006

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Chronic stress, coupled with ultraviolet (UV) radiation, may increase susceptibility to a common form of skin cancer by suppressing an important category of immune cells, according to a study by Ohio State University cancer researchers.

The findings of the study were published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

“We know chronic stress suppresses our body’s ability to fight off infection and heal properly. But no one has looked to see whether chronic stress affects skin cancer, which is the most common cancer in the United States,” said Tatiana M. Oberyszyn, a researcher at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute involved in the study.

Chronic stress is stress that persists for several hours each day for weeks, months or years. Both chronic stress and exposure to UV radiation suppress the immune system, but the mechanism by which suppression occurs is not fully understood.

For this study, the researchers wanted to learn if chronic stress and UV radiation together might accelerate the emergence and progression of UV-induced squamous cell carcinoma and inhibit its regression, said Alison N. Saul, a graduate research associate in the Integrated Biomedical Graduate Program in the College of Medicine and first author on the study.

Researchers studied immune response and tumor formation in rodents.

“We found that three weeks of chronic stress resulted in tumors developing six weeks earlier, and ultimately resulted in more than twice the number of tumors forming compared to nonstressed mice,” Oberyszyn said.

Researchers observed suppression of T-cell function and of molecules called type-1 cytokines, both of which work to enhance the type of immune response that would aid in skin tumor elimination, Oberyszyn said. The results surprised researchers, she said.

“It seemed counter-intuitive that something that happened so long ago would actually impact the development of tumors weeks, even months later,” Oberyszyn said. “But we saw a very conclusive and dramatic difference that showed that stress definitely has an impact on the development of skin cancer.”

Researcher Firdaus S. Dhabhar, formerly of Ohio State and now an associate professor at Stanford University in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, led the study. Others involved in the study were Donna Kusewitt, Scott Jewell, William B. Malarkey, Stanley Lemeshow, Christine Daugherty, Susie Jones and Amy Lehman, all of the Ohio State cancer program.

The study was funded in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Dana Foundation.

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Eileen Scahill
Medical Center Communications

Tags: Cancer; Clinical/Translational Research; James Cancer Hospital; OSU Medical Center; Skin Cancer

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