Stress may limit women's ability to fight HPV
By Joene Hendry
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Among women with abnormalities on a Pap test, those who report high levels of daily stress appear to have a weakened immune response to a type of human papillomavirus, HPV16, that can cause cervical cancer.
However, "It is premature to draw any conclusions regarding the effects of stress on immune response to HPV16 and the clinical implications of the observed association," emphasized Dr. Carolyn Y. Fang, of the Fox Chase Cancer Center, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Fang and her colleagues report their findings in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.
Previous research reporting associations between stress and cervical disease led Fang's team to look into stressful life events and daily stress among 74 women undergoing colposcopy for further evaluation after an abnormal Pap test.
Blood tests showed that over 55 percent of the women harbored one or more HPV subtype, the investigators report.
The women with immune systems that did not respond to HPV16 by churning out more infection-fighting cells were more likely to have an active HPV infection than the women whose immune systems did respond to HPV16, the investigators report.
Furthermore, women reporting higher levels of perceived stress were less likely to respond to HPV16.
Nonetheless, there's a big gap from that finding to an assumption that the risk of cervical cancer is increased.
"This research is not saying that stress causes cervical cancer or that feeling stressed out means that one will develop cervical cancer," Fang made clear. "Our findings merely represent one plausible biological pathway by which stress may be associated with disease risk and progression."
SOURCE: Annals of Behavioral Medicine, February 2008.