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Stress And Cancer Surgery

April 2008 - Research from Tel Aviv University published in Brain, Behaviour, and Immunity has shown that psychological and physiological stress before during and after cancer surgery impairs immune system functioning and that blocking the influence of major stress hormones may improve outcome.

Lead researcher Shamgar Ben-Eliyahu, professor of psychology said:

"The psychological stressors of surgery deal a blow to the immune system, but this is hardly discussed in the medical community. Ours is among the first studies to show that psychological fear may be no less important than real physiological tissue damage in suppressing immune competence."

The study found that stress hormones such as adrenaline which are released before and during surgery "underlie much of the devastating effects of surgery on immune competence". Researchers explain that it had previously been assumed that a weakened immune system - a major factor in the development of metastases - was associated with the response of the body to tissue damage.

Shamgar Ben-Eliyahu commented:

"Timing is everything after cancer surgery. There is a short window of opportunity, about a week after surgery, when the immune system needs to be functioning maximally in order kill the tiny remaining bits of tumor tissue that are scattered around the body."

Pre-clinical studies in animal models published in Brain, Behaviour, and Immunity in 2005 found that blocking these stress hormones could reduce the incidence of metastases. A similar study in progress has demonstrated an increase in long-term post-operative survival rates from cancer in animal models by 200-300 per cent.

Researchers are currently developing an intervention program, based on existing generic drugs, to block the influence of stress hormones. Integrating stimulation of the immune system before surgery and preventing its suppression may provide an opportunity to eradicate cancer residuals after surgical removal of the primary tumor before they can become re-established.

Shamgar Ben-Eliyahu concluded:

"By boosting the immune system and blocking its suppression by psychological and physiological stress, starting a day or two before surgery, during surgery and after surgery, we may be able to provide an intervention program that can extend people's lives and potentially increase their chances for long-term survival."

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