Social isolation worsens cancer'
Living alone may make cancer more deadly, US research on mice suggests.
Researchers found the social environment can modify the biology of the disease – and lead to significant differences in outcome. Female mice stressed because they were separated from their mothers developed more and larger mammary gland tumours than more contented animals.
Researcher Dr Suzanne Conzen said the study raised hopes of new ways to block cancer growth: ‘Given the increased knowledge of the human genome we can begin to objectively identify and dissect the specific alterations that take place in cancer-prone tissues of individuals in at-risk environments and that will help us to better understand and implement cancer prevention strategies.’
The study added to growing evidence that chemicals circulating in the blood – such as stress hormones – could influence the development of cancer by turning genes on and off within cells with the potential to turn malignant.
Previous work has also suggested that depression can have a negative effect on cancer prognosis.
But Oliver Childs, of the charity Cancer Research UK, warned against drawing any firm conclusions.
He said: ‘These experiments were carried out in mice, so certainly do not prove that the stress caused by social isolation causes cancer to get worse in humans.
‘It is now widely recognised that stress plays a part in illness, but no-one really knows how much and there is no good evidence from controlled studies that stress contributes to cancer progression.’