Health Alert: Stress could increase cancer risk

WASHINGTON, D.C. (NBC) - Stress and overeating without exercise is a recipe for bad health. Now there's new evidence both could make you more susceptible to cancer.

New research suggests the more stressed women are, the harder it is for your body to fight off the virus that can cause cervical cancer.

Kids, work - even traffic - can all create stress. Fox Chase Cancer Center found women who felt stressed out in the last month had a harder time fighting HPV 16, a virus that can cause cervical cancer.

Why? Because stress creates the hormone cortisol, and cortisol weakens your immune system.

Carolyn Fang, Ph.D, says, "When somebody is feeling a lot of stress, this hormone might be getting secreted in greater quantities, therefore leading to a lowered immune response."

Interestingly, the weakened response is linked to short-term stress, like trying to find a parking space when you're late - not long-term stress like losing your job.

A separate British study found gaining 20 or 30 pounds could boost a man's risk of cancer of the esophagus by over 50 percent, thyroid cancer by a third and colon and kidney cancer by a quarter.

The same weight gain made women 60 percent more likely to develop endometrial or gall bladder cancer and a third more likely to develop kidney cancer. It's all linked to body-mass index, or BMI.

Sarah Wally, registered dietician, of the American Institute for Cancer Research, says, "So even if you are in a healthy range but you're ekeing up, the higher BMI you get, really the greater your risk."

So what's fat got to do with it? Wally says, "Your spare tire isn't just there weighing you down."

"It's promoting low grade inflammation. It's increasing circulating insulin levels. In some cases it's increasing circulating estrogen levels."

Staying lean and avoiding stress could be the key to staying cancer-free.

There's something else that can affect your cancer risk - insurance. An American Cancer Society report out Friday finds people with no insurance are much more likely to be diagnosed with advanced-stage cancers, when it's often too late for doctors to offer much hope.

Posted by Chantelle Janelle