Stress Before Cancer

Stress Before Cancer

We all know, or realise, that cancer is stressful. Having cancer is stressful. Knowing, supporting or being associated with someone with cancer is stressful. Less well known or emphasised is the enormous effect that stress can have both physically-chemically and emotionally-mentally in the development of cancer.

The majority of people with cancer have had an experience of unusual stress in the months or years prior to their diagnosis of cancer. For this reason, dealing with stress is an essential part of any recovery program.

In general, we deal with short-term acute stresses remarkably well. The stressor occurs which sets off our body’s ‘Alarm Phase,’ where a flood of hormones and other chemical responders are produced and flood the body. You are probably aware of the rush of adrenaline, the fast beating heart and the sweaty palms that occur when you are faced with a sudden stress (alarm). Once the acute or short-term stressor is dealt with or resolved, the body and its various systems return to normal. Generally, no long-term harm has been done. This can vary from a sudden loud noise, fear that you are being attacked, or the first few days at a new job until you learn the ropes.

Long-term stress is more destructive. You experience the Alarm Phase Response on an ongoing basis in the first stages of long-term stress, but in time the body adapts. In this Adaptive Response Phase the composition of the various compounds flooding the system change. The effect on your hormones, your immune system, your heart, and more is slowly cumulative. You adjust to the stressful situation and are pleased that you can cope and manage the situation. However, progressive harm is done in the body, as you try to adapt and cope long term.

If the stress is prolonged and there is no end to it you reach the Exhaustion Phase. This is somewhat similar to the Alarm Phase, as the body desperately tries to summon up more resources, but this is not entirely successful and overt symptoms of stress and ill health result. Adult Annoyed Blur Burnout Concentration F

The worst type of stress is not only the prolonged stress that you think you can cope with but the stress to which you can see no solution. The stress where you feel ‘helpless and hopeless’ about changing the situation. You may be in a bad situation (maybe a job where you are being asked to do something you consider cheating) but know that any solution (such as resigning and not being able to pay the bills) would be just as bad. Any situation in which you feel unable to see a better way of coping can be particularly destructive.


The brain triggers the release of compounds that act on your adrenal glands. These glands (you have two, one on top of each kidney) release the stress response hormones. Initially, this is adrenalin and then, as the stress continues, the body releases hormones such as cortisol.

This leads to significant damage:

  • the production and release of destructive free radicals, leading to DNA damage and weakened immune function
  • the production of cytokines and a number of inflammatory responses
  • Reduced immune function, such that it allows for the development of bacterial and viral infections, that further stress the body.
  • Impaired mitochondrial function. Mitochondria are the energy sources in each cell (thousands of them) that are thought to be damaged and then trigger the development of the cancer process.
  • Altered production of genes both from the mitochondria and from the cell’s nucleus
  • Reduced levels of tumour suppressor genes. These genes monitor the production of new cells, monitor them for any faults, and then either correct the problem or stimulate apoptosis. This is the process by which there is the orderly death of faulty cells.
  • Stimulation of compounds such as VEGF, that encourage the formation of new blood cells. This is good when new blood vessels are needed for tissue repair however it can be harmful if this allows for the development of additional blood vessels to feed a growing tumour. Stimulation of IGF-1
  • Increased levels of many other oncogenes (those that encourage reactions that allow for the survival and reproduction of damage (mutated ) cells.

This is why we focus on the stress issues for people that come to our Central London practice that either have cancer or are concerned about the development of cancer. As a fundamental step of restoring homoeostasis (normal health and function), we aim to:

  • Increase the oxygen content, not just in the body, but also into the cells and then to the mitochondria
  • Provide the body with all the nutrients it needs – the correct diet for each individual and the correct nutrients
  • Avoid, and eliminate as many of the toxins as we can, and encourage the body’s elimination processes
  • Focus first on stress management, then stress reduction and finally changing the individual’s response to what they have considered a stressor in their life.

Many people who come to the practice are focused on (a) what foods to eat) and (b) what supplements they can take. However while these things are definitely helpful, you can’t ‘eat your way to health.’ Reducing, managing and altering the perceived stress in your life is a vitally important part of both prevention and recovery.


Dr Xandria Williams offers specific psychotherapy to individual clients.

  • She also runs a variety of one- or two- day seminars where she trains people in a variety of different stress-reduction techniques. These can help you to overcome or prevent cancer.  They can also have a very positive effect on other aspects of your health and the rest of your life. They are limited to less than 20 people, sometimes less than 10 people – depending on the nature of the seminar.  They are held in our Central London venue.
  • If you have cancer, or are concerned about cancer, you can also book to attend our (free) Client Open House on Friday evenings (booking is essential).
  • If you would like to have your name included on our mailing list, please send your request to

*Our next De-Stressing workshop is scheduled for the 3rd and 4th of November, 2018. The cost is £145 for the weekend. This is a very popular event so please call or email early to reserve your place.

The CanSurvive Resource and Education Centre

T: 020-7824-8153 

E: education@

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