Researchers at the University of Chicago have isolated another factor in triple-negative breast cancer: social isolation. They found that women living in a high crime area of Chicago are more likely to develop triple-negative, which is more prevalent among African-Americans. Loneliness and a lack of social outlets, they say, lead to a surge in the stress hormone cortisol, which allows tumor cells to grow through efficient use of sugar and fat. And sugar and fat are out to do no good—they’re both associated with aggressive cancers.

Women with triple-negative also had consistently low cortisol levels, leading to a flat reaction to stress, again a result of life in a high-crime neighborhood, according to the study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

But, women with a strong social network were more likely to fight against stress, therefore having the power to combat disease.

So, did we cause our cancers by being stressed? Does relaxation help us recover? Are our families and friends the right therapy?

First, get over the guilt trip about having caused your sickness. This is a complex disease, with multiple factors. Having lived a perfect life would have been good, but that is really a silly thought, isn’t it? Second, stress isn’t good for much, so do all you can to reduce it. This study tells us that the best tonic is to set aside time for friends; keep connected with our families; talk to our neighbors; and just plain get out in the world.

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