Cancer’s Secret Ally: Stress and Strenuous Physical Activity

Exercise more! We hear this advice from countless sources throughout our entire lives. It starts with our parents telling us to get outside and enjoy the fresh air and continues straight on into the leader of the free world heading the charge to get us active. So it comes as a pretty big shock when researchers from Ohio State University start advising people to exercise less.


Because the stress might kill you.

Okay, so they’re not dispensing this prescription to everyone. The advice applies only to those undergoing treatments for cancers that originate in the glands – such as breast cancer – and only for the few days immediately prior to a treatment. Actually, they’re recommending avoiding stress altogether, not just exercise.

But still, these doctors are telling people not to exercise!

The advice comes from a study recently published in Molecular Cancer Research, which began when Govindasamy Ilangovan, a cardiovascular specialist at Ohio State’s Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute, noticed that a particular protein produced by stressed-out cells was helping heart muscle survive when it should have stopped beating. Intrigued by what this might mean for cancer patients, Ilangovan reached out to some radiology specialists to find out.

The protein in question is called Hsp27. It’s produced through a natural reaction by damaged cells in order to take a quick break for repairs before getting back to the regular business of mitosis. And though it’s produced by cells damaged through treatments such as chemotherapy, it also has been linked to physical and psychological stress, including heavy exercising.

In the experiments, researchers took breast cancer cells and hit them hard with ultraviolet-C radiation and doxorubicin, a common chemotherapy drug. In each and every trial, heightened levels of Hsp27 led to more cancerous cells surviving. But when they introduced siRNA into the equation – a molecule known to suppress Hsp27 – the treatments were much more successful in killing off the cancerous cells.

The results are pretty clear; if you have a cancer treatment coming up, try not to stress your mind or body out too much in the days leading up to it. This is easier said than done, but the Hsp27 levels in the experiments reached their maximum concentrations about 48 hours after the initial stressing agent was applied.

In the future,  Ilangovan hopes to create a drug that can be taken in tandem with other treatments that will suppress Hsp27’s effects. But since siRNA is not suitable for use in humans, that medication is still a long ways away.


About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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