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Links to cancer

Conquest - Summer 2014

More to worry about than cancer

By Katrina Burton

Ever feel as if you overcome one obstacle only to encounter another? Or maybe you believe the old superstition that bad things always come in threes. If you think about stress and its many debilitating effects on a person’s body, that saying may not seem so irrational.

Understanding the science behind stress and how it negatively impacts a person’s health are important topics being investigated at MD Anderson.

Researcher Eileen Shinn, Ph.D., who specializes in psychosocial oncology, is redefining how clinicians might view stress and how to better connect the dots between stress and cancer.

“I feel there are aspects of a cancer patient’s health, such as psychological stress, that are overlooked or not addressed, that may have an impact on their survival,” says Shinn, assistant professor in Behavioral Science.

She believes that many cancer patients suffer from multiple afflictions that should be treated along with the cancer. “Patients could suffer from heart disease or diabetes, as well as cancer.”

“It’s important to address these comorbidities so we can ensure that the treatments and interventions developed for each patient will offer a better chance for survival,” Shinn says.

Most recently, Shinn and her colleagues investigated whether hypertension and chronic stress had an impact on the survival of ovarian cancer patients, who, overall, have a five-year survival rate of 35%.

Results from the study showed that women with tachycardia (rapid heart rate) lived an average of four years after diagnosis. In comparison, women without the condition lived, on average, 5.9 years. The study also revealed that patients who didn’t experience cardiovascular events such as venous thromboembolism and pulmonary hypertension also lived longer.

“These findings were significant in that a blockbuster cancer drug typically leads to a 3 to 7% improvement in survival, whereas these cardiovascular comorbidities were associated with reductions in survival between 32 to 42%,” Shinn says. Shinn expects these types of cardiovascular events are related to stress, but more research is necessary.

Stressing out

Betting on beta-blockers

Not overlooking how patients see themselves

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center