How to Manage Stress When You Fear a Prostate Cancer Recurrence
Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men after lung cancer. Researchers estimate that the prevalence of prostate cancer will increase by nearly 80 percent by 2040, according to a 2019 study published in the World Journal of Oncology.
If you've survived prostate cancer, it's completely understandable why you may worry about recurrence. Stress management is critical after prostate cancer because it may reduce your risk of recurrence and help you achieve long-lasting remission.
What's the link between stress and prostate cancer recurrence?
Experiencing some stress from time to time is normal, but stress that never goes away can lead to chronically elevated levels of cortisol in the body. Cortisol is a hormone that plays a role in the body's response to stressful "fight-or-flight" situations. Chronically high cortisol levels can lead to widespread inflammation in the body, according to a 2014 study published in Physical Therapy. Over time, chronic inflammation can damage DNA in cells and increase the risk for a number of cancers, including prostate cancer.
Therefore, managing stress after prostate cancer may help you avoid recurrence. In a 2013 study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers found that men with prostate cancer tend to have increased levels of stress and anxiety and concluded that stress reduction may play an important role in preventing future disease recurrence.
What are the benefits of stress reduction on the body?
Stress reduction offers a wide range of health benefits, some of which are specific to reducing the risk of prostate cancer recurrence:
- Stronger immune system, as chronic stress can impair and weaken the immune system, making you more vulnerable to cancer recurrence and other illnesses.
- Improved sleep, which can lead to higher energy and faster healing.
- Ability to maintain a healthy weight because stress can lead to weight gain and obesity, both of which are risk factors for prostate cancer.
- Improved mood and well-being, as stress increases the risk of depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders.
Effective ways to manage stress as a prostate cancer survivor
An estimated 20 to 30 percent of men will experience prostate cancer recurrence after five years following their initial cancer treatment. Fortunately, you can reduce your risk of becoming one of these men as long as you take steps to effectively manage your stress and practice the following healthy lifestyle behaviors:
Exercise releases "feel-good" chemicals called endorphins that naturally improve your mood and reduce stress and pain. Additionally, evidence suggests that men who stay active after treatment may be less likely to die from their prostate cancer than men who don't exercise.
Eat foods high in probiotics, which help eliminate bad gut bacteria that contribute to stress and poor mental health. Kimchi, kefir, kombucha and yogurt are some of the many foods high in probiotics that can reduce stress and also improve your physical health.
Join a support group
Support groups for survivors of prostate cancer allow you to network and bond with other men who understand what you're going through. These meetings also give you a chance to speak freely about your fears, which can help relieve stress.
Get quality sleep
Sleep deprivation can raise your body's cortisol levels and physical stress level, even if you're not necessarily experiencing psychological stress. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day and make improvements to your sleep environment as needed to get better sleep. Consider upgrading your sheets and mattress and hang blackout curtains that block out light.
Talk to your cancer team about other ways you can effectively relieve stress if you have had prostate cancer. Your doctors can also work with you to develop a healthy exercise and nutrition plan that won't interfere with or delay your recovery.