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BACKGROUND: Major stressful life events have been shown to be associated with an increased risk of lung cancer, breast cancer and the development of various chronic illnesses. The stress response generated by our body results in a variety of physiological and metabolic changes which can affect the immune system and have been shown to be associated with tumor progression. In this study, we aim to determine if major stressful life events are associated with the incidence of head and neck or pancreatic cancer (HNPC).

METHODS: This is a matched case-control study. Cases (CAs) were HNPC patients diagnosed within the previous 12 months. Controls (COs) were patients without a prior history of malignancy. Basic demographic data information on major stressful life events was collected using the modified Holmes-Rahe stress scale. A total sample of 280 was needed (79 cases, 201 controls) to achieve at least 80% power to detect odds ratios (ORs) of 2.00 or higher at the 5% level of significance.

RESULTS: From 1 January 2018 to 31 August 2021, 280 patients were enrolled (CA = 79, CO = 201) in this study. In a multivariable logistic regression analysis after controlling for potential confounding variables (including sex, age, race, education, marital status, smoking history), there was no difference between the lifetime prevalence of major stressful event in cases and controls. However, patients with HNPC were significantly more likely to report a major stressful life event within the preceding 5 years when compared to COs (

CONCLUSIONS: Patients with head, neck and pancreatic cancers are significantly associated with having a major stressful life event within 5 years of their diagnosis. This study highlights the potential need to recognize stressful life events as risk factors for developing malignancies.


Holmes–Rahe, anoikis, immune suppression, prevention, social support

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