Anil K. Sood of the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center is a leading ovarian cancer researcher. In a recent publication his group has shown that stress can result in ovarian cancer tumors growing and spreading faster.
VEGF (Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor) is a growth factor that leads to the process of growing new blood vessels (angiogenesis). For tumors to be able to grow past a certain size they need more oxygen and to get that oxygen they need blood vessels.
Some researchers in Anil’s group had previously noticed that women with ovarian cancer who said they had high stress levels also had a greater amount of VEGF. And that women with more social support had lower levels.
Anil’s group then stressed some mice which had ovarian cancer. The mice that were stressed had more tumors and in many of them the tumors had spread to other parts of their body also.
What they also noticed was that these stressed mice also had higher levels of VEGF – as well as MMP2 and MMP9. The MMP (matrix metalloproteinase) proteins are a type of enzyme that breaks down proteins by breaking the bonds between the amino acids, specifically they are in a group called ‘endopeptidases’. Even more specifically MMP2 and MMP9 belong in a subgroup of the MMP proteins called gelatinases which are believed to be involved in metastasis (the spreading of cancer to different places in the body).
Stressed mice were then given a beta-blocker called propranolol. Beta-blockers block receptors for epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline) which are released in response to stress. The beta-blockers seem to be able to reverse the effect of the stress.
These results may be able to help researchers find new ways to fight cancer in the future.
I can’t help but think that all women who have ovarian cancer are likely to be stressed! Who wouldn’t be? Either way its one more reason to try to help reduce the stress in people with cancer. I have heard of cases where co-workers with cancer were not treated well at all. I’m sure most of us do whatever we can to make someone we love with cancer as comfortable as possible though.
Anil’s results can be found in Nature Medicine.
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