Positive Psychosocial Factors and Oxytocin in the Ovarian Tumor Microenvironment

Michaela G. Cuneo, Angela Szeto, Andrew Schrepf, Premal H. Thaker, Michael Goodheart, Steve W. Cole, Anil K. Sood, Philip M. McCabe, Armando J. Mendez, Susan K. Lutgendorf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Objective Clinical ovarian cancer research shows relationships between psychosocial factors and disease-promoting aspects of the stress response (e.g., norepinephrine and cortisol). However, little is known about how psychosocial factors might relate to beneficial hormones in the ovarian tumor microenvironment. Here we examine relationships between psychosocial factors and tumor-Associated oxytocin, a hormone linked to survival and antitumor processes in ovarian cancer. Methods Patients with ovarian cancer (n = 96) completed assessments of positive psychosocial factors (social support, positive affect, and purpose in life) and distress (perceived stress and depression) at the time of surgery. Levels of oxytocin and interleukin (IL) 6 in ascites fluid were obtained during surgery and analyzed by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Multiple regression analyses adjusting a priori for patient age and disease stage examined associations between psychosocial factors and ascites oxytocin. IL-6 was used as a covariate in secondary analyses to examine the potentially confounding effects of inflammation in these relationships. Results Higher levels of positive affect (β = 0.22, p =.034), purpose in life (β = 0.31, p =.021), and social nurturance (β = 0.24, p =.024) were all related to higher levels of tumor-Associated oxytocin at the time of surgery. In contrast, we found no effects for distress or social attachment. Relationships between oxytocin, purpose in life, and social nurturance were independent of IL-6, whereas positive affect was no longer significant with IL-6 in the model. Conclusions Tumor-Associated oxytocin may be a previously uninvestigated link in the relationship between psychosocial factors and health in ovarian cancer. Future studies should examine causal mechanisms of relationships observed in this study.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)417-422
Number of pages6
JournalPsychosomatic Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2021


  • IL-6 = interleukin-6
  • ovarian cancer
  • oxytocin
  • positive affect
  • psychological well-being
  • social nurturance
  • tumor microenvironment


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