Stress and its molecular consequences in cancer progression

Postepy Hig Med Dosw (Online). 2017 Jun 12;71(0):485-499. doi: 10.5604/01.3001.0010.3830.


Stress, caused by psychological, physiological and physical factors has an adverse impact on human body homeostasis. There are two kind of stress: short-term and chronic. Cancer patients usually live under chronic stress, caused by diagnosis-related strong emotional experience and depression, resulting from various difficulties associated with disease progression and treatment. At the molecular level, stress factors induce production and secretion of stress-related hormones, such as catecholamines, glucocorticoids and dopamine (as a part of adaptational body response), which influence both normal and transformed cells through their specific receptors. The particular effects exerted by these molecules on cancer cells have been also observed in in vitro cultures and include changes in proliferation, apoptosis susceptibility and migration/invasion potential. As a result, it has been suggested that stress hormones may be responsible for progression of malignancy and thus accelerate the metastasis formation in cancer patients. However, the clinical data on correlation between stress and the patients survival, as well as the molecular analysis of stress hormone receptors expression and action in cancer cell, have not yet provided an unequivocal answer. For this reason, extensive studies, on molecular and clinical level are needed to fully determine stress impact on cancer progression and on the effectiveness of anti-cancer treatment. Nowadays, it seems reasonable that the personalization of anti-cancer therapy should also focus on mental state of cancer patients, and provide them with psychological tools or techniques for stress management.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Disease Progression*
  • Dopamine
  • Epinephrine
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Neoplasms / psychology
  • Neoplastic Processes
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic
  • Stress, Physiological*
  • Stress, Psychological*


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Dopamine
  • Epinephrine