This study examined the possibility that reactivity to acute stressors may be altered among women facing the chronic stress of being at familial risk for breast cancer. Sixteen healthy women with histories of breast cancer in their families (Risk Group) and 32 women at normal risk (Comparison Group) were exposed to 15 min of classic laboratory stressors. Seventeen women at normal risk were randomly assigned to nonstressful tasks (manipulation check). Self-reported distress, natural killer cell activity (NKCA), and NK cell numbers (percentage of CD3-CD16/56+ lymphocytes) were assessed before and after the tasks. Cardiovascular activity was assessed throughout the session. The tasks elicited increases in distress, heart rate, NKCA, and NK cells numbers in both experimental groups. Supporting study hypotheses, the Risk Group had larger increases in distress, heart rate, NKCA, and NK cell numbers. These findings raise the possibility that the chronic stress associated with familial cancer risk may have negative health consequences through changes in psychobiological reactivity.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Psychiatry and Mental health