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Stress, The Lymphatic System, and Cancer

Clinical studies have shown that stressful events can worsen the survival rate of cancer patients. In mice, chronic stress promotes the spread of tumours but exactly how stress eases cancer’s passage has been unclear.

In a recent study, scientists investigated how stress affects the lymphatic system – the body’s sewerage pipe system, which drains waste such as fluid or dead cells from tissues.

The team imaged the growth of lymphatic vessels around breast cancer tumours in mice. They stressed some of the mice by locking them in a cage to stop them from moving around freely for two hours a day over 21 days.

The researcher discovered that stress hormones remodelled the architecture of the lymphatic vessels around the tumours – more vessels grew and were wider, allowing more liquid to flow. This remodelled network also let cancer cells spread to lymph nodes more easily.

“We found that chronic stress signals the sympathetic nervous system – better known as the ‘fight-or-flight’ response – to profoundly impact lymphatic function and the spread of cancer cells,” study author Caroline Le from Melbourne’s Monash University explained.

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