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Pediatr Blood Cancer. 2012 Jul 15;59(1):138-43. doi: 10.1002/pbc.24044. Epub 2011 Dec 20.

Endocrine response and perceived stress test during an experimental challenge task in adult survivors of a childhood cancer.

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  • 1Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois, Service Universitaire de Psychiatrie de l'Enfant et de l'Adolescent, Lausanne, Switzerland.



Although long-term implications of cancer in childhood or adolescence with regard to medical conditions are well documented, the impact on mental health and on response to stress, which may be an indicator of psychological vulnerability, is not yet well understood. In this study, psychological and physiological responses to stress were examined.


Fifty-three participants aged 18-39 years (n = 25 survivors of childhood or adolescence cancer, n = 28 controls) underwent an experimental stress test, the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST). Participants were asked to provide repeated evaluations of perceived stress on visual-analogical scales and blood samples were collected before and after the TSST to measure plasma cortisol.


The psychological perception of stress was not different between the two groups. However, the cancer survivors group showed a higher global plasma cortisol level as well as higher amplitude in the response to the TSST. The global cortisol level in cancer survivors was increased when depression symptoms were present. The subjective perception of stress and the plasma cortisol levels were only marginally correlated in both groups.


It is suggested that the exposure to a life-threatening experience in childhood/adolescence increases the endocrine response to stress, and that the presence of depressive symptoms is associated with an elevation of plasma cortisol levels. A better knowledge of these mechanisms is important given that the dysregulations of the stress responses may cause psychological vulnerability.

Copyright © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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