Does a positive attitude affect cancer?

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People with cancer and their families may feel guilty about their emotional responses to the illness. They may feel pressure to keep a “good attitude” at all times, which is unrealistic. This feeling of pressure can come from within themselves, from other people, or both. Sadness, depression, guilt, fear, and anxiety are all normal parts of grieving and learning to cope with major life changes. Trying to ignore these feelings or not talking with others about them can make the person with cancer feel lonely. It can also make the emotional pain worse. And some people feel guilty or blame themselves when they can’t “stay positive,” which only adds to their emotional burden.

Along these same lines, many people want to believe that the power of the mind can control serious diseases. This is a comforting belief that can make a person feel safer from the risk of serious illness. If it were true, you could use your mind to stop the cancer from growing. But the down side of such beliefs is that when people with cancer don’t do well, they may blame themselves.

To learn more about attitude and survival, researchers looked at the emotional well-being of more than 1,000 patients with head and neck cancer to find out whether it affected survival. Over time, those who scored high on emotional well-being showed no differences in cancer growth or length of life when compared with those with low scores. Based on what we know now about how cancer starts and grows, there’s no reason to believe that emotions can cause cancer or help it grow.

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