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Wednesday, 7 March, 2001, 05:21 GMT
Women blame breast cancer on stress
Women who have had breast cancer tumours say a positive attitude helps fight the disease
Women who have had breast cancer tumours say a positive attitude helps fight the disease
More women with breast cancer believe stress caused their condition than blame genetics or any other factor, a study has shown.

Of women who had been clear of breast cancer for average of nine years, 42% believed stress had been one of the key reasons for them developing the disease.

Two thirds said having a "positive attitude" had helped keep them free of the disease, with 26% saying prayer had helped them.

Having some control over their condition also helps, with 58% saying they would want to have more of a say over how they were treated.

Causes identified
Stress - 42%
Genetics - 27%
Environmental factors - 26%
Hormones - 24%
Diet - 16%
Tamoxifen, a key treatment for breast cancer patients, was identified as having helped prevent a further occurrence of breast cancer by just 4%.

Researchers from the University Health Network and the University of Toronto carried out a study of almost 400 women, asking why they thought the breast cancer had developed, and what had prevented its recurrence.

Women who believed stress was to blame, were more likely to use complementary therapies and anti-depressants, though less likely to smoke.

Despite the high profile of families with a genetic link in recent years, only 27% thought genetics was a factor, with almost the same number suggesting environmental factors had played a part in causing their cancer.

Hormones and diet were also highlighted by 24% and 16% of the women.

But the researchers said there was less evidence to support stress as a cause than for all the other factors suggested.

Positive attitude

In the study, published in the journal Psycho-Oncology, the researchers also looked at what the women felt had helped prevent the breast cancer from returning.

In addition to the 60% who said a positive attitude had helped, 50% felt diet had benefited them, and 40% praised a healthy lifestyle and exercise.

What women felt helped prevent the cancer returning
Positive attitude - 60%
Diet - 50%
Healthy lifestyle - 40%
Exercise - 40%
Prayer - 26%
Complementary therapies - 11%
Luck - 4%
Tamoxifen - 4%
A third identified stress reduction, 11% complementary therapy and 4% luck.

Half said the advice to newly-diagnosed patients would be to "have hope, have courage and be positive".

Dr Donna Stewart, who led the study, said the belief that stress had caused their disease, and lifestyle changes following it could help women feel they had control over the condition.

But she said it could backfire if the disease returned, with women potentially seeing it as a "personal failure".

She added those treating women with breast cancer should take their views of how the treatment should develop into account.

"That may assist in understanding how she perceives her condition, in encouraging lifestyle changes, and in framing disease management in meaningful ways that give a greater sense of personal control."

Pamela Goldberg, chief executive of Breast Cancer Campaign, a breast cancer research charity, said: "This was a survey of just asking for people's feelings.

"There's no evidence to say this or that does or doesn't cause breast cancer."

And she said she knew of no research linking stress with breast cancer.

Ms Goldberg added women often felt breast cancer treatment - surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy - was something that was "done" to them.

"You feel completely hopeless and don't really understand when you are diagnosed with breast cancer."

And she said women placed importance on diet and lifestyle because that was something they could organise.

Recommending a healthy diet, including lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, and the positive benefits of exercise, she added: "There are things you can do to reduce the risk, but there are no guarantees."

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See also:

06 Feb 01 | Health
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29 Sep 00 | Health
Tackling breast cancer
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Breast Cancer
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