Stressful life raises the risk of women dying from cervical cancer

Cervical cancer patients who go through stressful life events such as a divorce are more likely to die ‘because they weaken their body’s defence system’

  • Scientists found stress led to an increased risk of death by up to 55%
  • They looked at the records of more than 4,200 cervical cancer patients  
  • Stress can be anything from feeling of sadness to coping with death in the family

Stressful life events such as divorces raise the risk of women with cervical cancer dying, a study has found.

Females battling the disease who experienced stress were up to 55 per cent more likely to die after being diagnosed. 

Scientists in Sweden believe stress weakens the body’s immune system, helping cancerous tumours to thrive. 

They said there is growing evidence to suggest ‘psychological distress may affect the progression of many cancer types’. 

Stressful life events raise the risk of women dying from cervical cancer, a study has found

And the team said that diagnosed cancer patients are at increased risk of several stress-related disorders, such as depression and anxiety.  

The Sweden’s Karolinska Institute researchers examined the records of 4,245 newly-diagnosed cervical cancer patients in Sweden between 2002 to 2011. 

They also took note of patients who had been clinically diagnosed with one of three psychiatric disorders.

These were anxiety and depression, stress-reaction and adjustment disorders, with symptoms including feelings of sadness and lack of sleep. 

They identified patients who had to deal with a ‘stressful event’, such as the death or severe illness of a family member, divorce, or being between jobs.  

Cervical cancer was named as the cause of death for 1,005 patients out of 1,392 who died. 

Overall, the researchers found that 1,797 patients either had stress-related disorders or had undergone stressful life events. 

Patients with a stress-related disorder or who had to deal with a stressful event in their lives were 33 per cent more likely to die of the disease than those who had not reported stress, according to the study. 

Those with stress-related disorders were 55 per cent more likely to die of their cervical cancer, according to the report published in the Cancer Research journal.


Cervical cancer affects the lining of the lower part of womb.

The most common symptom is unusual bleeding, such as between periods, during sex or after the menopause, but other signs can include:

  • Pain during sex
  • Vaginal discharge that smells 
  • Pain in the pelvis

Causes can include:

  • Age – more than half of sufferers are under 45
  • HPV infection – which affects most people at some point in their lives
  • Smoking – responsible for 21 per cent of cases
  • Contraceptive pill – linked to 10 per cent of cases
  • Having children
  • Family history of cervical or other types of cancer, like vagina

Source: Cancer Research UK 

Those who had experienced a stressful life event were 20 per cent more likely to die of their disease, according to the study. 

Dr Donghao Lu, lead author, said the risks remained true for all types of tumours – and treatments the women were given. 

He said there are several possible explanations for the link between psychological stress and cervical cancer-specific deaths. 

Previous research has shown that chronic stress may suppress the immune system response, which may affect cancer progression. 

And Dr Lu and colleagues suggested that if a woman has a weaker immune system, she is less able to fight off the HPV infection.

HPV (human papillomavirus) is spread through sex, and some types lead to almost all of cervical cancer diagnoses.   

A woman suffering from a psychological disorder may also be less likely to seek treatment and may have received a late diagnosis. 

Fellow author Karin Sundstrom said: ‘If confirmed in other populations and countries, psychological screening and intervention may be considered as an integral component in cervical cancer care.’ 

In the UK, there are roughly 3,200 cases of cervical cancer diagnosed every year, according to Cancer Research, and 854 deaths.

Around 13,170 Americans will be diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer in 2019, and about 4,250 women will die, according to the American Cancer Society.

Almost half of women are predicted to die from the disease ten years or more after diagnosis. However, survival rates have been increasing over the past few decades.  

Dr Lu stated the association between stress and cervical cancer prognosis and should not be interpreted as a causal link.  

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