Researchers at Fox Chase Cancer Center find that poor psychosocial functioning is associated with greater vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) expression-a signalling protein that not only stimulates tumour growth, but is also associated with shorter disease-free survival in head and neck cancer patients.
"There is research showing that high VEGF expression in other cancers, such as ovarian, is associated with psychosocial factors," said Carolyn Fang, Co-Leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at Fox Chase.
"This information coupled with what we already know about VEGF promoting tumour aggressiveness and poorer prognosis in head and neck cancer patients, certainly gave us a reason to look at this biomarker," added Fang.
VEGF not only plays a pivotal role in angiogenesis, but it is also regulated by stress hormones and key cytokines-a category of signalling molecules used extensively in intercellular communication.
In the current study, Fang and colleagues looked at 37 newly diagnosed, pre-surgical head and neck cancer patients, to see if psychosocial functioning, such as perceived stress and depressive factors, was associated with VEGF, a biological pathway relating to patient outcomes.
"Our analysis indicated that higher levels of perceived stress and depressive symptoms were associated with greater VEGF expression in the tumour tissue of these patients" said Fang.
Greater VEGF expression was, in turn, associated with shorter disease-free survival among patients.
The study has been presented at the 32nd Annual Meeting and Scientific Sessions of the Society of Behavioural Medicine.