Does Stress Cause Cancer?

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Ask the experts

Does stress cause cancer? I have always been anxious. Will this increase my risk of cancer?

Doctor's response

Psychological stress can have a number of different effects on the body and its function, including effects on the immune response. Stress can worsen the symptoms of most medical conditions. Nevertheless, at this time there is little proof that stress alone is actually a cause of medical problems or cancer. Cancer is a complex disease that results from a combination of hereditary (inherited) and environmental factors.

Although some epidemiologic studies have suggested an association between lifestyle stress and cancer, most studies fail to confirm this association. Stress is known to affect the functioning of the immune system, and it is known that compromised immune function may play a role in the development of cancers. However, there has been no scientific proof that stress can increase cancer risk.

Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery with subspecialty certification in surgical critical care


"Overview of the classification and management of cancers of unknown primary site"

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Reviewed on 8/14/2017