Stress can amplify progression of skin cancers

January 31st, 2009 - 4:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Jan 31 (IANS) Stress can amplify the progression of malignant melanoma, a particularly aggressive form of skin cancer. Not only do different forms of cancer react differently to stress hormones, but these reactions can vary within a specific form of the disease, with the possibility of a more aggressive form of the disease reacting more strongly to the stressors.

The study is the third by Ohio State University over the last two years that looked for links between stress hormones and cancers.

Eric V. Yang, a research scientist at the Institute for Ohio Behavioural Medicine Research (IBMR), exposed samples of three melanoma cell lines to the compound norepinephrine, a naturally occurring catecholamine that functions as a stress hormone. In times of increased stress, levels of norepinephrine increase in the bloodstream.

Yang and Ronald Glaser, director of IBMR and a professor of molecular virology, immunology and medical genetics, were looking for changes in the levels of three proteins released by the cells.

One of the proteins - vascular endothelial growth factor or VEGF - plays a key role in stimulating the growth of new blood vessels needed to feed a growing tumour, a process called angiogenesis. The other two proteins, Interleukin-6 and Interleukin-8, are both involved in fostering tumour growth.

All three of the cell lines were grown from tissues taken from secondary tumours that had developed from a primary site, signifying aggressive forms of cancer. But one of them - C8161 - represented the most aggressive and advanced form of melanoma.

“We noticed that all three of these proteins increased in response to the norepinephrine,” Yang explained, adding that in the C8161 cells, “we got a 2,000 percent increase in IL-6. In untreated samples from this cell line, you normally can’t detect any IL-6 at all.”

“What this tells us is that stress might have a worse effect on melanoma that is in a very aggressive or advanced stage, and that one marker for that might be increased levels of IL-6,” he said, according to a university release.

These findings were published in the journal Brain, Behaviour and Immunity.

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