Breast Cancer Research and Treatment

, Volume 29, Issue 2, pp 141–160

Psychosocial factors in the development and progression of breast cancer


  • Leena Hilakivi-Clarke
    • Lombardi Cancer Research Center, Room S128Georgetown University
    • Department of PsychiatryGeorgetown University
  • Julia Rowland
    • Department of PsychiatryGeorgetown University
  • Robert Clarke
    • Lombardi Cancer Research Center, Room S128Georgetown University
  • Marc E. Lippman
    • Lombardi Cancer Research Center, Room S128Georgetown University

DOI: 10.1007/BF00665676

Cite this article as:
Hilakivi-Clarke, L., Rowland, J., Clarke, R. et al. Breast Cancer Res Tr (1994) 29: 141. doi:10.1007/BF00665676


The factors responsible for the genesis of breast cancer remain unclear. Emerging, although controversial, evidence suggests that factors related to life-style, such as dietary fat or alcohol intake, or exposure to various forms of stressors, are associated with mammary tumorigenesis. The possible role of life-style factors in breast cancer is important in light of the fact that mortality to this disease is increasing in most countries and that development of curative therapies for breast cancer has not been forthcoming. Thus, determining the role of life-style factors in the onset and progression of breast cancer, particularly among individuals genetically vulnerable to breast cancer or women with breast cancer in remission, is critical to prevent this disease. We will review the three main hypotheses which have been suggested to link psychosocial factors to the etiology of cancer, emphasizing data obtained through animal models. Interpretation of the existing data suggests that the number of stressful life-events does not predict vulnerability to develop breast cancer or survival from it; a certain level of stress appears to protect from malignancies. The crucial factor affecting tumor growth is the interaction among stress, an individual's personality, and available psychosocial support, and the effect of this interaction on an individual's ability to cope with stress. In addition, other risk factors for breast cancer known to be closely associated with psychosocial factors, namely dietary fat and alcohol consumption, may interact with the effects of psychosocial factors on breast cancer.

Key words

psychosocial factorsdietary fatalcoholpreventionsurvival

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1993