High-stress events, chronic stress, depression, and poor social support increase risk for breast cancer by nine-fold. Anxiety increases stress hormones such as cortisol and depletes antioxidants. This elevated state of chronic stress is now considered a carcinogenic state. Stress also alters BRCA gene expression.
Stress is inherently part of the process of diagnosis, entering the medical system, dealing with ongoing medical visits and expenses, and all of the changes needed to navigate the disease. However, it is possible to manage stress even in the face of all this.
Effective stress-reducing techniques include, yoga, exercise, meditation, breathing work, and massage.
I have also learned from my clients how important boundary setting is for creating the buffer zone of protection from outside influences, time demands, and expectations. A health crisis inherently involves family, friends, a medical team, and the help of others. So, there is a tremendous amount of communication happening during the process.
Non-Violent Communication (NVC), is a system for communicating clearly and getting your needs met. It is worth learning NVC language as it is important that you are being heard and having your needs met during the healing process. Many of my clients have found that through NVC language they are able to express their needs, get the help they want, and create a buffer zone of protection from unnecessary conflict. They also report that they recognize imbalances in personal relationships sooner so they can be addressed before they cause problems.
Massage and touch therapies improve relaxation and comfort and support stress reduction. Lymphatic massage may also be recommended after surgery for improving circulation, lymphedema-related swelling and discomfort (Leung, 2015). Overall gentle effleurage helps reduce tension and improve circulation.
Practicing mindfulness meditation or being involved in a support group has a positive physical impact at the cellular level in breast cancer survivors.
Integrative mindfulness therapies have been found to improve physical and emotional health as well as social functioning after treatment. Not only does meditation improve functioning but it also helps reduce cancer-related symptoms including fatigue, pain, insomnia, constipation, anxiety, and depression (Dobos, 2015).
Body weight plays a significant role in breast cancer risk as obesity is responsible for 1 in 5 diagnoses of breast cancer and 1 in 6 deaths. Obesity promotes existing tumor growth by increasing inflammation and insulin resistance. Body fat also increases breast cancer development by increasing production of estrogen (Vicennati, 2015).
Overweight and obesity are associated with an increased risk of post-menopausal breast cancer and less favorable prognosis after diagnosis and initial treatment. Diet, toxins and microbes all play a role in obesity. Interventions as previously discussed such as dietary changes, detoxification and microbial supplementation along with exercise, can help maintain a healthy body weight and reduce risk of development as well as recurrence of breast cancer.