Home / Science & Space / Stress Can Speed Up Pancreatic Cancer | Through Sympathetic Nervous System

Stress Can Speed Up Pancreatic Cancer | Through Sympathetic Nervous System

[Estimated read time: 4 minutes]
  • The emotional and psychological stress can accelerate the development of pancreatic cancer. 
  • Stress generates a feed-forward loop between cancer cells and nerves, promoting tumor growth.
  • The patients’ life expectancy can be increased with beta blockers and chemotherapy.

A research done at Columbia University Medical Center reveals that stress may speed up the development pancreatic cancer by releasing ‘fight or flight’ hormones. Medications, like beta blockers, that suppress these hormones, were observed to raise survival in a mouse model of the disease.

Beta blockers are drugs that block epinephrine and norepinephrine (produced by nerves throughout the body) from binding to beta receptors on nerves. They act as neurotransmitters that may be active anywhere in the body, when they’re released into the blood.

The researchers found that patients with last-stage pancreatic cancer, who were taking beta blockers, survived nearly 66 percent longer than who weren’t.

Not Everyone Believes

Some scientists do not completely agree with this because there is no method to accurately measure the human stress yet. Others wonder how could someone possibly relate the growth of cancer cell within a specific organ (pancreas in this case) with a biological process that involves DNA mutations

How Tumor Generation and Stress Are Related?

The emotional and psychological stress can accelerate the development of tumors through the sympathetic nervous system that releases hormones to provide body a stream of energy so that it can respond to surrounding dangers.

Stress Can Speed Up Pancreatic Cancer

In order to find the links between early pancreatic cancer development and stress, scientists studied genetically predisposed mice. These mice already had abnormal growths developing in the pancreas.

One group of mice was raised in normal conditions and another group was placed in a stressful environment, confined to a small area. After 98 days (or 14 weeks), 38% of the mice, who were placed in a stressed environment, were found to have a precursor to pancreatic cancer – nepotistic pancreatic lesions. No such signs were seen in the mice who were placed in normal conditions.

According to the research team, these results suggest that stress has ‘something’ to do with growth of pancreatic cancer. They studied that stress is responsible for raising catecholamines levels in the bloodstream.

Catecholamines cause general physiological changes that prepare the human body for physical activity (fight or flight response). They generate molecules that stimulate growth of nerve around tumors.

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomaPancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, most common pancreatic cancer | wikipedia

These nerves enhance the development of tumor and simultaneously create more catecholamines. Simply put, stress generates a feed-forward loop between cancer cells and nerves, promoting tumor growth.

Reference: Cancer Cell | doi.org:10.1016/j.ccell.2017.11.007 | Columbia University Medical Center

More specifically, catecholamines promote beta-2 adrenergic receptor pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma growth and secretion of neurotrophins. These neurotrophins, in turn, promote tumor innervation causing increased neurotrophins and tumor development. Blocking beta-2 adrenergic receptor or neurotrophins can improve gemcitabine’s therapeutic effect.

Nerve cell at 4th, 6th, and 10th day after being exposed to drug that mimics ‘fight or flight’ hormones

Is There Any Cure?

The research team conducted various experiments with different mouse model. The mice with pancreatic cancer were treated with beta blocker and chemotherapy. What they found is, these mice lived longer as compared to the other group of mice that were only treated with chemotherapy.

To get specific details, the team observed 631 patients’ record who had surgery for pancreatic cancer. Those who were taking selective beta blockers (targeting specific parts only) after surgery had significantly less median survival than those who were taking non-selective beta blockers. The patients with non-selective beta blockers had 40 months of median survival.

Read: Ultraviolet Light Can Kill Airborne Flu Viruses

There are plenty of studies, suggesting that a positive outlook and happy mind is good for health and can help you recover from many diseases. Of course, this isn’t a cure, but it increases life expectancy. .

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