TEHRAN, IRAN. Many women believe that stress and depression increase the risk of breast cancer. Iranian researchers have now confirmed this belief. Their study involved 3000 women attending a breast cancer screening clinic in Tehran during the period 1997-1999. Data were collected regarding age, education, marital status, age at first menstruation, age at first full-term pregnancy, family history of breast cancer, menopausal status, oral contraceptive use, presence of depression and anxiety, and overall health. A diagnosis of breast cancer was made for 243 patients. The data for these patients were combined with that from 486 cancer-free controls and analyzed.
The researchers confirmed that early age at first menstruation (menarche) and a family history of breast cancer are potent risk factors for breast cancer. However, they also found a strong association between depression, anxiety, a feeling of hopelessness, and loss of interest and pleasures and the risk of breast cancer. Women who were depressed and hopeless had almost twice the risk of developing breast cancer than did more cheerful and upbeat women even after allowing for other known risk factors.