Research on cancer and how the cells spread has yielded different possibilities. The latest Australian study focuses on the lymphatic "highway". REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Research has shown what has long been suspected -- the effect of stress on cancer. The team from Melbourne's Monash University found that stress causes cancer cells to multiply and spread to other parts.

It also found that spread of cancer in humans was reduced when the patients were given drugs to treat anxiety and thus reduce stress. A clinical trial is currently checking if the anxiety pills produce the same results on larger groups.

The results of the study are published in Nature Communications.

The researchers found that adrenaline triggered by stress caused the cells in mice to expand and pass more easily to other parts, thanks to increased flow of fluid around the lymphatic vessels, reports Xinhua.

Cancer kills around 50,000 Australians each year, largely aided by this "lymphatic highway", the scientists said.

"We found that chronic stress activates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) - better known as the 'fight-or-flight' response - to profoundly impact lymphatic function and the spread of cancer cells," Dr Caroline Le, one of the study's lead researchers, said in the final report.

Earlier studies have indicated the possible role of a gene ATF3 triggered by stress as the one responsible for spread of cancer cells by its action on immune system cells. Scientists believe there could be many players involved in cancer and the way it hijacks the immune system. Meanwhile, the role of yoga and meditation in alleviating stress and depression among cancer patients has been well documented.