Stress Gene Activation Linked With Breast Cancer Spread In New Study

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It's no secret that having a poor handle on stress is bad for your health. And now, a new study in mice shows how exactly activation of a gene linked to stress could potentially lead to the spread of cancer.

"It's like what Pogo said: 'We have met the enemy, and he is us,'" study researcher Tsonwin Hai, a professor of molecular and cellular biochemistry at The Ohio State University, said in a statement. "If your body does not help cancer cells, they cannot spread as far. So really, the rest of the cells in the body help cancer cells to move, to set up shop at distant sites. And one of the unifying themes here is stress."

The gene, called ATF3, is already known to become activated in response to external stress, prompting normal cells to self-destruct if they've been irreparably damaged by outside stressors.

But the new study shows that cancer cells may be using this technique for bad, by getting immune system cells already present at a cancer tumor to also express the ATF3 gene. When the gene is expressed in this circumstance, the immune cells don't work properly and cancer is able to spread.

The study, conducted in mice with breast cancer, was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

While stress hasn't definitively been proven to cause cancer, other research has suggested it can play a detrimental role. Forbes reported earlier this year on a study from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center researchers, showing that stress seems to make prostate cancer drugs work less effectively, and drive prostate cancer development.

For more scary effects of stress, click through the slideshow:

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