Study: Being Anxious All the Time May Give You Cancer
After analyzing data from more than 15,000 British people, the researchers discovered that men with generalized anxiety disorder were more than twice as likely to die from cancer over the 15-year follow up period than those without the disorder.
The link persisted even after the researchers adjusted for other factors that could be raising cancer risk in that group—for example, that anxious people may not exercise as often or that they may have other medical conditions linked to cancer that might be making them anxious.
That means there’s probably something about continual anxiety itself that’s raising your cancer risk.
One possibility: Persistent anxiety elevates your stress hormones, such as cortisol, says study author Olivia Remes, Ph.D. (c), of the University of Cambridge.
That can hinder your cells’ ability to repair damaged DNA—giving cancerous cells the opportunity to form—as well as accelerate the growth of tumors and cancer-causing mutations, she says.
One important note: The study looked at men with general anxiety disorder, a mental condition that’s more serious than your average run-of-the-mill stress and nervousness.
The disorder is characterized by obsessive and uncontrollable worry, which causes trouble focusing and sleeping, says Remes.
More research needs to be done to determine whether treating anxiety actually reduces your cancer risk, says Remes. But the longer anxiety persists, the greater your cancer risk, she says. So it’s possible that treating it early might help.
If you’ve been plagued with worry that you just can’t turn off—or find that your anxiety stops you from doing everyday things like hanging out with friends or going to work—make an appointment to talk with your doctor to talk about treatment options.
He or she may recommend cognitive behavioral therapy, anti-anxiety meds, or a combination of both to help reduce your anxiety, says Remes.