In the serene confines of the Aegean Sea lies the island of Ikaria, where residents embrace a lifestyle that keeps them vibrant well into their golden years. This special place is one of only five known blue zones where people live approximately a decade longer than the average and have lower rates of chronic disease, including cancer. Research conducted on this unique population by the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine reveals the importance of lifestyle factors, such as stress management, on their longevity.  

Yoga, meditation and sound bath practices can all assist in managing stress during a cancer journey.

The magic of this island is well encapsulated by the story of a young man, Stamatis Moraitis, who was diagnosed in his 60s with terminal lung cancer. Having only a few months to live, he decided to return to his native home of Ikaria to be buried by his ancestors. Remarkably, after leaving the hustle and bustle of the U.S. and returning to the slow-paced island lifestyle, he ended up living for three more decades. Stamatis, amongst other centenarians, is why Ikaria is affectionately called “the island where people forget to die.” Many have attempted to explain why people in blue zones live longer and theories range from diet to exercise, which undoubtedly play a role.

Studies show that residents of Ikaria experience remarkably low levels of chronic stress. Additionally, their daily routine embraces a connection to nature and a sense of belonging in their community. Stamatis’ exemplary story is a profound reminder of the relationship between stress and cancer outcomes, an intricate link that the literature supports.

Psychological stress is a well-supported risk factor for cancer development and progression. A study published by the National Institute for Health found a striking association between high-stress levels and increased risks of developing aggressive breast cancer subtypes.  Moreover, there is evidence to suggest that these tumors tended to grow more rapidly and were less responsive to treatment in individuals battling chronic stress and anxiety. 

I can’t think of a better person to illustrate the relevance of this research than Maria, a courageous breast cancer survivor with whom I had the privilege of working. Maria faced a life marked by relentless stress, juggling a demanding career and family responsibilities. With her diagnosis, her world crumbled, and her stress levels soared.

Recognizing the importance of addressing stress in her journey, we incorporated stress-reduction techniques into her treatment plan. Through mindfulness practices, relaxation therapies, and lifestyle adjustments, she gradually was able to balance her mental/emotional state and reduce her anxiety. As her stress levels decreased, something remarkable happened—her resilience grew, and her response to treatment improved significantly.

Maria’s journey underscores the significance of managing stress in cancer care. Research-based stress-reduction methods, such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, regular physical activity and a well-balanced diet, are essential tools in the fight against cancer. These practices not only support emotional well-being but also enhance cancer treatment and the body’s resilience against the disease.

The journeys of both Stamatis and Maria shed light on stress and its impact on cancer. And while the island residents have a lifestyle that shields them from chronic stress, for many like Maria, stress is a product of our modern society and its constant demands of us. Research confirms that the impact of stress on cancer outcomes is undeniable, emphasizing the importance of stress management in cancer care. By prioritizing mental and emotional health, alongside conventional and integrative treatments, we can navigate a path toward improved cancer outcomes and a life characterized by better health and well-being. 

Dr. Ceja is a primary care naturopathic doctor and resident at Live Well Clinic in La Quinta. The clinic offers integrative cancer support, regenerative joint injections, B vitamin injections, IV nutrients (in house and mobile services) and functional lab testing for a personalized health plan. For more information, call (760) 771.5970 or visit

Sources: 1) Chronic psychological stress and its impact on the development of aggressive breast cancer.; 2) “Psychological intervention and health outcomes among women treated for breast cancer: A review of stress pathways and biological mediators.”

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