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expert reaction to anxiety and cancer risk in men

Work presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) conference has reported that men who suffer from anxiety are twice as likely to die from cancer as men who do not.


Dr Minouk Schoemaker, Staff Scientist at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said:

“There is a paucity of good studies on this topic, and whether there is an association between anxiety and cancer is not yet clear. This study does not show that anxiety causes cancer, it focuses on the deaths from cancer, not incidence. We know that risk of dying from cancer depends on the type of cancer, how early you are diagnosed and compliance to treatment. Only the future will tell if anxiety plays a role in any of these factors.

“The fact anxiety only appeared to correlate with death rates in men, and not women, does raise the question of whether this finding is an artefact. Future studies would also need to provide information about the impact of anxiety on different cancer types.”


Prof. Dorothy Bennett, Director of Molecular and Clinical Sciences Research Institute, St. George’s, University of London, said:

“There is not much to go by yet, but as far as one can tell, this does look like a robust study.

“We should note that it is not ‘normal’ anxiety being related to the risk of cancer, but a clinically diagnosed condition called Generalized Anxiety Disorder, where sufferers feel extreme anxiety, anxiety generally every day and anxiety about many things. So if you are just anxious now and then, this study is not about you.

“The finding that anxiety is linked to an increased risk of cancer is not very surprising. It is well-established that stress, which would include constant anxiety, is associated with increased levels of the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol. It is also well-established that cortisol has a suppressive effect on the immune system; and there is good evidence that the immune system is involved in suppressing cancer development. So it is very plausible that constant anxiety would significantly increase the risk of cancer. We might also expect more infections.

“That does not explain why this would be only in men, not women; but perhaps this difference supports the idea of a hormonal mechanism in general.

“Should people with anxiety be concerned about the increased risk of cancer? Perhaps they shouldn’t. It sounds as if one’s best strategy is not to worry about it.”


Generalized anxiety disorder and excess cancer deaths: findings from a large, longitudinal study’ by Remes et al. presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) conference. 


Declared interests

Dr Schoemaker: None received

Prof. Bennett: “No interests to declare.”

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