Grant title: Stress, inflammation, and breast cancer: Role of tumor-associated macrophages
Funding: Breast Cancer Research Foundation
The role of stress in breast cancer initiation and progression has long been of interest to patients, clinicians, and researchers, although empirical research on this topic has yielded mixed and inconclusive results. A major barrier to investigating linkages between stress and breast cancer has been a lack of knowledge about biological pathways that may mediate these effects. Over the past decade, inflammation has emerged as a plausible and compelling biological pathway linking stress and breast cancer outcomes. The role of inflammation in tumor growth and progression is now well established, with tumor-associated inflammatory cells such as macrophages facilitating many of the hallmark characteristics of cancer (i.e., proliferation, angiogenesis, resistance to cell death, invasion, and metastasis. There is also growing evidence linking inflammation and psychosocial stress. The primary goal of this study is to determine whether chronic stress is associated with macrophage infiltration and gene expression in tumor samples from newly diagnosed breast cancer patients. Stress will be assessed using reliable and valid questionnaires that have been associated with adverse health and immune outcomes in previous research. In addition, we will administer a state-of-the-art computer-based, semi-structured interview to systematically probe a diverse variety of acute and chronic stressors (e.g., job loss, major relationship break-up, ongoing financial difficulties) that may have occurred across the lifespan. Together, these measures will provide a brief yet comprehensive assessment of cumulative stress burden, which we hypothesize will shape inflammatory responses in the tumor microenvironment via effects on tumor-associated macrophages.