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Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2010 Feb;120(1):169-74. doi: 10.1007/s10549-009-0454-6. Epub 2009 Jul 2.

No evidence that social stress is associated with breast cancer incidence.

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Strangeways Research Laboratory, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge, Worts Causeway, Cambridge, CB1 8RN, UK.


Women commonly attribute the experience of stress as a contributory cause of breast cancer. The purpose of this study is to investigate the associations between a history of social stress and breast cancer risk. A total of 11,467 women with no prior history of breast cancer, participants in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer (EPIC)-Norfolk population-based prospective cohort study, completed a comprehensive assessment of lifetime social adversity exposure. Summary measures of social adversity were defined according to difficult circumstances in childhood, stressful life events and longer-term difficulties in adulthood, derived measures representing the subjective 'impact' of life events and associated 'stress adaptive capacity', and perceived stress over a 10-year period. Incident breast cancers were identified through linkage with cancer registry data. During 102,514 (median 9) person-years of follow-up, 313 incident breast cancers were identified. No associations were observed between any of the summary social adversity measures and subsequent breast cancer risk, with or without adjustment for age, menopausal status, parity, use of menopausal hormones, age at menarche, age at first birth, family history of breast cancer, physical activity, social class, body mass index, height, and alcohol intake. This study found no evidence that social stress exposure or individual differences in its experience are associated with the development of breast cancer. These findings may aid strategies designed to meet the psychosocial and emotional needs of breast cancer survivors and may be interpreted in a positive way in the context of commonly voiced beliefs that the experience of stress is a contributory cause of their disease.

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