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Proven by science: stress hormones activate cancer cells

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A group of scientists discovered that hormones released in stressful situations reactivate cancer cells, which can cause a dangerous relapse of cancer. The study suggests that the use of beta-blockers could help prevent recurrence of tumors.

Tumors can reappear years after apparently successful treatment. It usually occurs when dormant tumor cells, which spread in the early stages of cancer but were later suppressed, become active again.   

Immune cells, called neutrophils, and certain hormones, such as norepinephrine and cortisol, can facilitate tumor reappearance years after cancer has been cured with chemotherapy and surgery, scientists from the US, Germany and Russia noted in their recent study, published in Science Translational Medicine.

Researchers demonstrated in an experiment with mice that norepinephrine reactivates the dormant cancer cells of the ovaries and lungs of the animals.

The level of the hormone noradrenaline, also known as norepinephrine, rises under conditions of stress, trauma, anxiety, fear, or nervous tension.

And an elevated level of norepinephrine causes neutrophils to release inflammatory proteins S100A8 / A9 and myeloperoxidase, which, in turn, leads to the accumulation of oxidized lipids. Lipids, in turn, cause tumor cells to come out of the resting state and form new tumors. 

Scientists also noted that higher concentrations of S100A8/A9 increase the chances of cancer returning after surgery. The higher the S100A8/A9 levels in patients’ blood, the faster the relapse occurs.

The authors claim that the use of stress hormone-targeted drugs, known as beta-blockers, helps prevent tumor recurrence. Thus, cancer cells became inactive in mice after receiving experimental beta-blockers.

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