Managing the stress of cancer
Could stress cause cancer? A generous donation from a cancer sufferer is enabling Flinders University researchers to explore this important query.
84-year-old Beryl from the northern suburbs of Adelaide experienced an incredibly stressful time early in 2020 when her partner James fell ill with pneumonia.
Beryl felt worn down by the role of carer and became sick herself. She then discovered she had developed a rare type of breast cancer, encapsulated papillary carcinoma, which had spread outside the duct.
‘I wondered if the impact of the incredible stress I was under had in fact caused the cancer – but no one could provide me with an answer,’ says Beryl.
She then approached Flinders University with funding to establish a research study to investigate the possible link between stress and cancer.
The new study is looking at different ways of measuring stress and the stress response in women receiving treatment for breast cancer, including analysing levels of the stress hormone cortisol in patients during chemotherapy.
Assessing the link between stress and cancer, Associate Professor Sarah Cohen-Woods, Professor Bogda Koczwara and Associate Professor Michael Michael.
The project brings together a multidisciplinary team at the University including oncologist and cancer survivorship researcher Professor Bogda Koczwara (BMBS ’90), psychology researcher Associate Professor Sarah Cohen-Woods, molecular biologist Associate Professor Michael Michael, and endocrinologist Associate Professor Morton Burt.
Focusing on women receiving treatment for breast cancer, they hope to facilitate earlier detection and intervention.
‘Our study will provide information on the feasibility of measuring cortisol in patients with cancer, using their hair samples to assess variation in results and change following chemo administration,’ says Professor Koczwara.
To undertake the specialised measurements, the pilot study will collaborate with a research laboratory in Dresden, Germany.
Supported by a donation from Beryl, the new research aligns with the Flinders University Cancer Survivorship Group priorities for research into breast cancer survivorship, and the commitment to support research into wellness as part of the Flinders Wellness Centre at the Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer.
It is pleasing to report that Beryl has had her cancer removed, followed by radiation treatment, and is now in recovery. Her partner James has recovered from pneumonia and is also doing well.
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