According to a study by Prof. Ronit Peled from the Faculty of Health Sciences at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, adverse life events can increase the risk of women developing breast cancer, while women who are happy and optimistic are less likely to develop the disease.

In the study, Peled and a team of researchers interviewed 622 women between the ages of 25 and 45. Of these, 255 suffered breast cancer. The scientists questioned women about their life experiences and evaluated their levels of happiness, optimism, anxiety and depression prior to diagnosis.

Traumas increase the risk

Using this information they examined the relationship between life events, psychological distress and breast cancer among young women.

“The results showed a clear link between outlook and risk of breast cancer, with optimists 25 percent less likely to have developed the disease. Conversely, women who suffered two or more traumatic events had a 62 percent greater risk,” Peled said.

“Young women who have been exposed to a number of negative life events should be considered an ‘at-risk’ group for breast cancer and should be treated accordingly,” she advised.

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the US today, after lung cancer, and is the most common cancer among women. According to the American Cancer Society, about 1.3 million women will be diagnosed with breast cancer annually worldwide, and about 465,000 will die from the disease.

Women in the US have the highest incidence rates of breast cancer in the world, with one in eight developing invasive breast cancer, with one in 35 dying from the disease.

Happiness plays a protective role

In the Israeli study, which was recently published in an article in the British journal BMC Cancer , the Israeli researchers indicated that the women were interviewed after their diagnosis, a fact which may color their recall of their past emotional state somewhat negatively.

However, said Peled: “We can carefully say that experiencing more than one severe and/or mild to moderate life event is a risk factor for breast cancer among young women. On the other hand, a general feeling of happiness and optimism can play a protective role.”

Peled urges further research into these findings:. “The mechanism in which the central nervous, hormonal and immune systems interact and how behavior and external events modulate these three systems is not fully understood,” she said. “The relationship between happiness and health should be examined in future studies and relevant preventative initiatives should be developed.”


Sign up for the ISRAEL21c Newsletter