epidemiology: stressed caregivers don’t face higher risk of breast cancer

It’s long been thought that stress might be a factor in the development of breast cancer, but a study in the June 1 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests otherwise. Candyce Kroenke of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School presents evidence that the long-term stress of caregiving does not appear to increase the risk of breast cancer. She and her colleagues tracked 69,886 women ages 46 to 71 over a period of eight years. Out of that number, 1,700 developed breast cancer. The team found that women who spent more hours caring for a disabled or ill adult or child, and reported higher levels of stress, did not have a higher incidence of breast cancer. Instead, they found that women who were caregivers more than 15 hours a week had relatively low levels of sex steroid hormones, suggesting that chronic stress could possibly lower breast cancer risk. Kroenke stated in a press release that she hoped the research would “be reassuring to women.”

This news brief appeared in the Discoveries column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 6/01/2004.
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