Date of publication: July, 2013
In a study conducted in mice, social stress resulted in changes in fat cells within the breast that increased the growth of triple-negative tumors. These results were published in Cancer Prevention Research.
A link between stress and cancer has not been well established, but researchers are exploring animal models of stress in order to determine whether stress causes biological changes that could contribute to cancer.
The current study involved a genetically altered strain of mice that develop triple-negative mammary tumors. The researchers had previously shown that when these mice are raised in isolation (a situation that is stressful for the mice) they tend to develop larger and more aggressive tumors than mice raised in small groups.
To assess the biological changes that are caused by social isolation, researchers evaluated tissue changes within the mammary gland as well as changes in circulating hormone levels.
The researchers found that being raised in isolation did not change the level of circulating hormones. It did, however, change the behavior of fat cells within the mammary gland. The fat cells showed increased metabolic activity, and produced substances that increased the growth of precancerous cells.
Although these findings cannot necessarily be extrapolated to humans, they raise a number of interesting questions. The results suggest that social stress could have adverse effects on the breast, and also point to possible avenues for cancer prevention. If fat cells within the breast contribute to the growth of some cancers, it may be possible to develop ways to stop this process.