Over the past decades, the belief that maintaining a positive attitude can prevent the onset of cancer and help overcome this disease. These ideas are based on a very small amount of research; however, the overall analysis of the existing scientific evidence reveals that it is wrong.
The main causes of cancer are linked to environmental risk factors. Highlights include smoking, obesity, infections, radiation, sedentary lifestyle, and exposure to pollutants. While psychological factors can influence the degree of this disease to some extent by the degree of stress, its weight is usually low.
The relationship between positive attitude and cancer
Several research meta-analyzes have been conducted on the possible association between psychological factors and the development or progression of cancers. In summary, it can be said that no relationship has been found between a positive attitude and the prevention or cure of these diseases.
The case of breast cancer has been particularly studiedThis is partly because some of the studies that supported the hypothesis that a positive attitude prevents this disease had been conducted in women with this type of cancer.
No significant association was found between breast cancer prevention or survival and psychological factors such as degree of psychosocial stress, social support, or stress coping style. However, there is a personality factor that appears to be associated with cancer, as we will explain later.
Another study involved a sample of over 1,000 patients with neck and head cancer. No relationship was found between emotional well-being and survival time disease, nor the rate of cancer growth.
Psychological factors influencing cancer
Eysenck and Grossarth-Maticek, among other authors, have described a personality factor associated with the development of cancer: rationality-anti-emotionality, Which would be defined as the tendency to emotional suppression, With a predominance of rationalization. This trait is conceptualized as a negative reaction to stressful situations.
While these two authors linked cancer more to people with a tendency to despair, scientific research has not supported this hypothesis. In contrast, there is some evidence that rationality-anti-emotionality can influence the onset of cancer.
If this approach is confirmed, the most likely explanation would have to do with two facts: cancer is a collection of diseases associated with the immune system (i.e. the body’s defenses) and chronic stress has immunosuppressive effects. Stress promotes cancer developmentWhile less than tobacco, obesity or infections.
It is true that psychological factors can promote the onset or progression of cancer, but it seems that they do so only indirectly. So much for the data on stress management, but above all behavioral habits that negatively affect the body how to smoke or eat improperly.
Psychotherapy focused on this disease
Several psychological therapies aimed at treating cancer have been developed in recent decades. Others focus on preventing these diseases and even changing personality factors believed to be linked to cancer.
A particularly striking case is that of visualization therapy developed by Simonton in the 80s. This program consists of visualizing the body’s defenses by destroying cancer cells, as well as promoting a positive attitude in general. We did not find independent studies on the effectiveness of this “treatment”.
There is also the creative innovation behavior therapy, Developed by Eysenck and Grossarth-Maticek on the basis of its own hypothesis. It focuses on the development of new patterns of behavior that replace the attitudes the authors associate with the onset and progression of cancer. Again, it was studied primarily by its own makers.
If we are guided by the available scientific evidence, we can conclude that psychological intervention in cancer should focus on the prevention of the main risk factors (Consumption of tobacco and alcohol, inadequate diet, sedentary lifestyle, etc.) as well as in the observance of medical treatments, rather than in the famous “positive attitude”.
- Butow, PN, Hiller, JE, Price, MA, Thackway, SV, Kricker, A. and Tennant, CC (2000). Epidemiological evidence for a relationship between life events, coping style, and personality factors in the development of breast cancer. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 49 (3): 169-81.
- Coyne, JC, Stefanek, M. and Palmer, SC (2007). Psychotherapy and cancer survival: the conflict between hope and evidence. Psychological Bulletin, 133 (3): 367-94.
- Philips, KA, Osborne, RH, Giles, GG, Dite, GS, Apicella, C., Hopper, JL & Mine, RL (2008). Psychosocial factors and survival of young women with breast cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 26 (29): 4666-71.