The negative effects of stress on the human body are already common knowledge, but feeling stressed could also play a role in the development of cervical cancer, suggests a report in the February issue of Annals of Behavioral Medicine.
The researchers questioned 78 women who had had abnormal Pap tests (a procedure in which cells are scraped from the cervix and looked at under a microscope) about their day to day stress level, and compared the results with those obtained from 28 women who had not received an abnormal Pap test.
According to their findings, there is a strong link between stress and cervical cancer.
"Women who reported higher levels of perceived stress — regardless of what was actually happening in their life — showed an impaired immune response to HPV," said Carolyn Fang, a psychologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia and lead author of the study.
Cervical cancer is the second most common form of cancer among women after breast cancer. Almost 250,000 people suffering from this disease die every year, according to the World Health Organization.
One of the factors that could lead to the development of cervical cancer is the human papilloma virus (HPV), especially the HPV 16 subtype. The HPV is spread during sexual intercourse, but in the case of healthy women, it disappears spontaneously over time.
However, it's too early to sound the alarm, Fang added. More research is needed to confirm the finding and show that reducing stress improves the body's ability to fight off HPV.
A national survey conducted last year by the American Psychological Association revealed that extreme stress is a condition one third of Americans are struggling with, endangering their health, relationships and work productivity.
According to the American Psychological Association nearly 48 percent of the population believe stress has intensified over the past five years.
(Agencies via Xinhua News Agency February 18, 2008)