Stress May Increase HPV and Cervical Cancer Risk

Sress can reduce the immune system’s ability to resist HPV, a common sexually transmitted disease that may lead to cancer, according to a recent study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine. No such association is seen, however, between past major life events, such as divorce or job loss, and the body’s response to the infection.

"HPV infection alone is not sufficient to cause cervical cancer," explained Fox Chase Cancer Center’s Carolyn Y. Fang, Ph.D. "Most HPV infections in healthy women will disappear spontaneously over time. Only a small percentage will progress to become precancerous cervical lesions or cancer."

Women with precancerous cervical lesions were asked to complete a questionnaire detailing their stress in the past month, such as divorced, death of a close family member or job loss. "We were surprised to discover no significant association between the occurrence of major stressful life events and immune response to HPV16. This could be due to the amount of time that has passed since the event occurred and how individuals assess and cope with the event," said Fang.

"Our findings about subjective daily stress told a different story, however. Women with higher levels of perceived stress were more likely to have an impaired immune response to HPV16. That means women who report feeling more stressed could be at greater risk of events that had occurred, such as divorce, death of a close family member or loss of a job.

"We were surprised to discover no significant association between the occurrence of major stressful life events and immune response to HPV16. This could be due to the amount of time that has passed since the event occurred and how individuals assess and cope with the event," said Fang. "Our findings about subjective daily stress told a different story, however. Women with higher levels of perceived stress were more likely to have an impaired immune response to HPV16. That means women who report feeling more stressed could be at greater risk of developing cervical cancer because their immune system can’t fight off one of the most common viruses that causes it."

Fang’s study was funded by a grant from the National Cancer Institute.


Source: Annals of Behavioral Medicine (Vol. 17, No. 1)

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