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Divorce and similar stressors are not causes of breast cancer, study reveals

25th July 2016

New research has shown that divorce and other stress factors such as bereavement do not cause breast cancer, contrary to popular belief.

The Institute of Cancer Research began the long running study in 2003, examining what happened to more than 100,000 healthy women over a 40 year period. At the start of the study, the women were asked how often they experienced stress as well as whether or not they had experienced eight difference large stressful events, including divorce, at any point in the last five years. 34% of the women claimed to experience regular stress, while 74% of them had experienced one of the eight stressful events.

1,783 of the 106,612 women later developed breast cancer, but the study found that they had not experienced significantly more stress or gone through a larger number of difficult life events than the women who remained cancer-free.

Many women often question whether their breast cancer could have been triggered by stress or a particularly difficult experience. This ground-breaking study provides the most robust evidence to date that stress itself is unlikely to be a biological cause of the disease. Said Delyth Morgan, the chief executive of Breast Cancer Now which is funding the ongoing study.

As the Breast Cancer Now Generations study continues to uncover more about the underlying causes of the disease, we need to turn this into practical guidance to help women reduce their risk.

Though the findings must come as a relief to women going through a divorce, previous research has linked the stress from divorce to other ailments, both physical and mental, including panic attacks, insomnia and back pain. Its obvious to anyone who has been or is going through a divorce that stress levels increase, but if you do find yourself suffering then see your GP immediately.

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