Role of the parasympathetic nervous system in cancer initiation and progression

Clin Transl Oncol. 2021 Apr;23(4):669-681. doi: 10.1007/s12094-020-02465-w. Epub 2020 Aug 8.


The nervous system plays an important role in cancer initiation and progression. Accumulated evidences clearly show that the sympathetic nervous system exerts stimulatory effects on carcinogenesis and cancer growth. However, the role of the parasympathetic nervous system in cancer has been much less elucidated. Whereas retrospective studies in vagotomized patients and experiments employing vagotomized animals indicate the parasympathetic nervous system has an inhibitory effect on cancer, clinical studies in patients with prostate cancer indicate it has stimulatory effects. Therefore, the aim of this paper is a critical evaluation of the available data related to the role of the parasympathetic nervous system in cancer.

Keywords: Acetylcholine; Cancer; Heart rate variability; Vagal nerve stimulation; Vagotomy; Vagus nerve.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cholinergic Neurons / physiology
  • Disease Progression*
  • Dogs
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / etiology
  • Rats
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiology
  • Vagotomy / adverse effects
  • Vagotomy / methods
  • Vagus Nerve / physiology