Cancer, Stress And The Immune System

There are medical studies linking cancer, stress and our immune system. You can find many of these on PubMed; here is one example: Stress, depression, the immune system, and cancer – PubMed (

Taking the time to understand how your body works will give you the reasons why exercise, nutrition and relaxation can help during treatment. Knowing the ‘why’ will motivate you to include these things in your daily routine.

Our Immune System and Cancer

 Our immune system is a network of cells, organs and tissues that guard our body from harmful viruses, bacteria, and other substances.

A side effect of chemotherapy is a weakened immune system; regular blood tests measure the number of immune cells (white blood cells) during treatment to ensure the numbers don’t fall too low.

Strengthening your immune system will help it to combat  infections and viruses effectively. You can boost immunity by choosing healthy lifestyle habits, including regular exercise, eating well, and prioritising quality sleep.

Research indicates that cancer patients often have a compromised immune system, which can contribute to cancer development. Pharmaceutical companies recognise this link between cancer and the immune system as they are working on innovative immunotherapies to educate the immune system to identify and attack cancer cells.

Stress and the immune system

Stress can be helpful when we experience it every so often. However, some people always feel stressed, which is called chronic stress. Chronic stress can impact the immune system by keeping us in fight or flight mode; this is where the body prepares to run away or fight, an evolutionary trigger to a stressful situation.

Certain bodily functions are unnecessary when the body is in this mode, and the energy is redirected elsewhere, to the legs for running or arms for fighting, for example. One of these suppressed functions is the immune system, as we do not need it to deal with the imminent threat of a tiger.

Chronic stress leads to long-term suppression of the immune system, which can contribute to cancer developing in the human body. So, even though we have a cancer diagnosis, which makes us stressed, finding ways to relax and be calm can be beneficial.

Visit the Living Well section of this website to find out more about relaxation and stress management.

Victoria Walsh

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Despite having the support of family, friends, and medical professionals, it’s normal to feel isolated and alone. 

However, you are not alone. You are now a part of a community who have gone through similar experiences and have come out stronger on the other side. What-Next is run by individuals who have either had cancer or supported someone with cancer.

We want you to know that you can overcome this challenge and live your best life along the way.

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