Do some people have a cancer-prone personality?
The Intriguing ‘Link’ Between Depression and Cancer
Martin, a 70-year old Georgia resident, experienced two major losses within a short time. First he lost his wife of 40 years. Then he remarried, but his new wife of 6 weeks jilted and deserted him. He became very depressed. Two and a half years later Martin was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.1
Was there a hidden link between his depression and the cancer?
A study published in the September/October 2003 Psychosomatic Medicine suggests there IS such a link. In the jargon of science, the findings are “statistically significant”.
So is cancer just the last straw in an unhappy life?
This American doctor said. . .
. . .and she proved it again and again!
Can you believe an American doctor actually said, “In 21 days you can just about get rid of any cancer” — and then proved it?
Well she did. My Cancer Defeated colleague Andrew Scholberg interviewed her. What’s more, he talked to some of the patients whose lives she saved during the last 20 years.
I was so excited by Andy’s findings I went to her clinic myself to take a look. We investigated her whole approach, and let me tell you. . .
There’s absolutely no doubt her cancer breakthrough has helped one “terminal” patient after another get rid of cancer.
What’s more, she did it with natural methods only — NO disfiguring surgery, NO burning radiation, and NO poisonous chemo. And here’s what’s really scandalous. . .
It’s not as simple as saying depression causes cancer. Perfectly happy, well-adjusted people get cancer, too.
So if you have a problem with depression, don’t start kicking yourself for causing your own cancer. That’s the last thing you should do. Later in this article I’ve got some ideas that could brighten — and extend — your life. I’ll give you a hint: Joining a support group can double your survival time.
But meanwhile it IS true that sadness can shorten your life. . .
Two major studies of Western Electric Company employees showed a relationship between self-reported depression symptoms and risk of mortality over 17- and 20-year follow-up periods2,3 — leading some to speculate that depression would officially become a risk factor for cancer.
Additional studies show that a large proportion of women diagnosed with breast cancer are convinced their disease stems from a major life stress — like an abortion, divorce, child’s illness, or the loss of a job they liked.
We’ve known all this since ancient times…
Two thousand years ago, the Greek physician Galen observed that depressed people were especially prone to develop illness.
In 1759 an English surgeon wrote that cancer “went with disasters in life”.4
Later, in 1846, British medical authorities considered “mental misery, sudden reverses in fortune, and habitual gloominess of temper… to constitute the most powerful cause of the disease.”
Dr. Walter Hyle Walshe, a prominent surgeon and cancer authority in the middle of the 19th century, added, “I have myself met with cases in which the connection appeared so clear that I have decided questioning its reality would seem a struggle against reason.”5
Not everyone agrees. . .
Still, this idea remains fiercely contested, and the evidence can be murky. Researchers Linkins and Comstock suggested that depression predicted cancer mortality in smokers but not in non-smokers.6
A number of later studies failed to find much of a correlation between depression and cancer7,8. One meta-analytic review concluded that depression was only a very small indicator for cancer.
Other studies continue to prolong these see-saw conclusions. So while some studies imply an increased risk of cancer, others suggest that depression doesn’t necessarily indicate anything.
Why conflicting results are so common…
At first glance, it seems it should be easy to determine if cancer is linked to depression — or not.
However, it’s not easy to separate other emotional factors or even physical ones from depression.
Behaviors like smoking and using alcohol, along with biological ones like growing older, becoming overweight, and having a family history of cancer, are common risk factors for cancer.
Researchers can find it difficult to control for these factors in a study group, or separate the role of stress or depression from these factors.
Are you giving the cancer “seed” fertile soil to grow in?
David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD, author of the international best-selling book Anti Cancer: A New Way of Life, describes how it takes from 5 to 40 years for a cellular anomaly to become a detectable tumor. A healthy gene can become abnormal via radiation, environmental toxins, and other carcinogens, such as the benzopyrene from cigarette smoke.
He states that no psychological factor by itself has ever been identified as being capable of creating the cancer seed.
But he goes on to conclude that certain reactions to psychological stress can profoundly influence the soil in which the seed develops.
So, is it my fault?
Many patients recall a period of particular stress in the months or years just before a cancer diagnosis. It may create a terrible sense of helplessness or an overwhelming feeling of suffocation.
These feelings don’t spark cancer per se… But a published article in Nature Reviews Cancer (2006) states that psychological stress can provide the optimal “soil” conditions cancer cells need to grow faster.9
Honestly, though… the various contributing factors can be so broad and confounding that you should never blame yourself or feel guilty for developing this disease. For one thing, that really doesn’t help your cause.
Secondly, knowing the “soil concept” can give you an opportunity to learn to live differently and handle your stresses better… and likely aid in your recovery if you’ve already been diagnosed with cancer.
Do YOU have a cancer prone personality?
Sometimes it’s called the “hit and sink” phenomenon, referring to the children’s game of Battleship…
Imagine a person who never felt fully welcome during childhood, or simply had cold, distant, or demanding parents who gave little or no encouragement. Later, this person conforms to what everyone expects of them, to avoid conflict. They safeguard their emotional security by investing heavily in their profession, marriage or children.
When that investment is threatened or lost, the childhood grief returns, and the emotional suffering is more profound than ever — leading to feelings of helplessness, despair, and abandonment.
When the second “hit” strikes, a person’s psychological and/or physical structure may collapse.
The Emory University lab of Charles B. Nemeroff, MD, PhD, published a study based on this theory… finding that depressed adult patients with traumatic childhoods had stronger inflammatory factors — ones contributing to cancer development — and reacted far more than most people to lab-induced stress.10
An animal experiment by Martin Seligman, PhD, at the University of Pennsylvania demonstrates this perfectly. Warning: I find this study distasteful, and you may, too, but we can learn something from it:
Rats were grafted with cancer cells that were known to induce a fatal tumor 50% of the time.
In this experiment the rats were placed into one of three groups:
a) Control group: The animals received the graft but were not manipulated in any way.
b) Group 2: Rats were given small electric shocks, which they could learn to avoid by controlling a lever in their cage.
c) Group 3: Rats were grafted, and given electric shocks — but there was no escape mechanism available.
As published in Science, having an escape mechanism had a very clear effect on whether they succumbed to cancer.
Surprisingly, Group 2, which could avoid the shock by controlling a lever, rejected cancer development more effectively than the control group — 63% of Group 2 rejected it, while 54% of the control group rejected it. That’s how important it is to feel you have some control, some ability to manage your own fate.
Sadly, only 23% of the animals subjected to electric shock without means of escape could overcome their cancer. It appears that the helplessness of their situation speeded up the tumor’s spread.11
Apparently, it’s the persistent feeling of helplessness or hopelessness that affects your body’s reaction to the disease.
Does the quality of your relationships make a difference?
Psychiatrist David Spiegel, MD, from Stanford University, believes that to be fully human, people need authentic relationships. As a young psychiatrist he had the opportunity to work with psychotherapist Irvin Yalom, MD, who was testing this idea.
Together they held weekly support groups for seriously ill women, all of whom had metastatic breast cancer; survival expectations ranged from a few months to a few years.
In the study, these groups of 8 to 10 women met weekly. They talked about their fears, their loneliness, and their anger… along with their desires and ways of coping with the disease.
They soon learned a fundamental lesson of life… Everyone is wounded to one degree or another, and is ashamed of it.
But at this point in their lives, there was nothing left to hide. So they shared their innermost thoughts and fears with one another. For some, it was their first time experiencing such a high level of trust.
Something quite miraculous happened then. The meetings were filled with natural laughter and camaraderie. Somehow by accepting their own wounds, they had opened the way to positive emotions, joy, the desire to live, and more.
For a year these women met regularly before going their own ways.
Spiegel compared the psychological state of these participants with women (with the same diagnoses and medical treatments) who did not participate in these group meetings.
The women who had learned — thanks to the support group — to confront their fears, to express their inner feelings, and to experience more authentic relationships, were less likely to experience depression, anxiety and even physical pain. 12,13
Support groups can double survival time
Spiegel expected the groups to improve their entire emotional state.
But he never expected to discover what he did about the course of the disease — or the chances of survival.
He was totally convinced there was no link between a patient’s mental state and the development of cancer… In fact, he was outright enraged by those who attributed cancer to psychological effects.
To finally prove that this hypothesis was false, he intended to show that the women in the support group did not live any longer than those in the control group.
But when he followed up with these women, a big surprise awaited him.
Ten years later, three of the 50 support group members answered the telephone themselves. Considering how extremely grave their condition was, that was simply astounding. Not a single member of the 36-women control group had survived so long. The women who hadn’t enjoyed the benefit of a support group had all passed away.
While questioning the families about how long the support group members had survived, he found that they’d lived on average twice as long as the members of the control group.
He even discovered a difference between regular attendees and sporadic attendees of the groups. The more regularly a woman attended, the longer she had survived.
It’s important to stress that all the patients had similar diagnoses at the beginning, and that the selection of those who joined the therapy group versus the control group was completely random. The study was designed to guarantee that members of the therapy group didn’t survive longer just because they had better health to start with, or because they had a different psychological disposition. The outlook for both groups was the same at the beginning.
When these results were published in The Lancet, they rocked the medical establishment.
Thanks to this study, the link between mental state and the development of disease progressed from being some kind of crazy “new age” idea to a respectable scientific hypothesis.
Today David Spiegel is associate director of the Department of Psychiatry at Stanford University, and one of the best known academic psychiatrists.
When asked to explain his unusual findings, he said:
“Feelings you can’t express become an internal obstacle. They use up resources we don’t completely understand. Expressing and accepting them stops using these resources to keep them out of awareness. How that translates in how the body fights illness is still a mystery but I’ve come to believe it does, and we are beginning to understand the mechanisms.”14
Since then, other studies have tested this same hypothesis. Four had results comparable to Stanford’s. Six observed no effect.
Why happiness impacts more than ‘just’ your mental health…
We now know that stress causes hormones to be released to activate your body’s “emergency” response (such as the inflammatory response), which can facilitate the growth and spread of tumors.
What’s more… at the same time, stress slows down any functions that can possibly be “put on hold” — like digestion, tissue repair, and immune system maintenance. Stress causes the body to put aside all those needs while it deals with the “crisis.” And that’s what chronic stress is: a feeling of continually being in crisis, under attack, pushed to the wall.
During the past 20 years, a cutting edge new medical field has begun studying the specific link between psychological factors and your immune system function. It’s called psychoneuroimmunology. It connects the dots between psychology, neurology, and immunology.
It’s a bit complex, but everything suggests that the cells of your immune system (NK cells and T and B lymphocytes) are especially sensitive to feelings of helplessness… such as the overwhelming feeling that nothing can be done to overcome the disease — like those poor rats that were afflicted with shocks and had no way to stop them. If it goes on long enough in can result in the loss of will to live. Just like Seligman’s rats.
Humans, unlike the lab animals, can rediscover the will to live. We can experience a decisive turning point in the course of a disease.
Reconnecting with anything alive — the tree outside your window, children running through the hallway or down the street, your dog or cat, even the breaths you take — can prompt your immune system to rally and fight on.
Shut down depression before
it shuts down your immune system
Depression can be overcome. The following 11 tips are meant to help. However, for long-term or severe bouts of depression, you should seek professional help.
1. Myrrh. It’s been around since biblical times and is said to chase the blues away. Put ½ teaspoon of powdered myrrh (available at health food stores) in a cup of boiling water. Let it cool… drink a cup twice per day.
2. Move it! On your feet! Exercise has been found to be more effective than antidepressant drugs — without any of the side effects. Exercise stimulates endorphins that create a sense of well-being. Exercise can almost immediately make you feel better about yourself and life in general. You don’t have to do much. Walking several times a week is fine. Rule one is: doing something is better than nothing. ANY exercise is better than NO exercise. At least park in the space farthest from the store and walk to the door.
3. When the days are short, as in spring and fall, take a walk at high noon. It’s the brightest (cheeriest) time of day, and will maximize your vitamin D intake as well as lift your spirits. During the summer you can get the same benefit from walking almost any time between 10 AM and 4 PM — and you should actually avoid midday so you don’t get burned. When the days are shorter, you want to time your walk to take place close to noon, if you seek to maximize the vitamin D benefit.
4. After a loss… Native Americans used borage to help comfort the bereaved “when the heart weeps with sorrow”. Prepare a tea by placing 1 heaping teaspoon of borage (from health food stores) in a cup of boiling water, steep for 10 minutes, then strain and drink. Expect a cucumber taste. Drink 3 cups throughout the day to help ease emotional pain and grief.
5. After a loss or any other major trauma… If you don’t seek professional help, do your own therapy by keeping an “emotional diary”. At least once per day, write your innermost feelings. No censoring allowed… the purging of your thoughts and emotions can speed the healing process… When you complete the process and feel better, you may find the process valuable enough to continue.
6. Grow some plants… whether indoors or out. According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, the therapeutic benefits of peaceful garden environments have been understood since ancient times. Growing plants and seeing flowers bloom can give you a new appreciation for life and a chance to exchange your unhappiness for joy.
7. Repeat personal affirmations out loud with great gusto first thing every morning and last thing every night. Plus any time you catch yourself thinking negatively… At first, you may have to ‘force’ yourself to say them enthusiastically, but in time it will become easier to ‘say them honestly’.
Here are some examples other people have used. You can create your own too, using things that are going WELL in your life, phrasing them always in a positive manner using the present tense.
a) Every day, in every way, I’m getting better, better, better.
b) I love you, (insert your name)… you’re a truly magnificent soul!
c) I am reaching my dreams with great ease.
d) I’m lucky and abundant in all the things I wish for.
e) There is an endless stream of wonderful experiences coming to me every single moment.
f) I am happy to be alive.
g) I am a precious child of God who deserves to be loved and taken care of.
h) I am putting myself back on my priority list.
i) I’m getting healthier every day.
j) I am happy this very moment.
k) I am always keeping the child alive within me.
l) I am unique in the entire world.
m) Nothing can defeat me.
n) I am loved by God.
8) Carol Parks, one of our newsletter contributors, suggested something unusual: leaf laughing. Ever feel like you’re super-sensitive to everything and anything? She urges you to try a sensitive plant you’ll grow to love — the TickleMe Plant (mimosa pudica).
Tickle this sensitive plant and it moves — really! Its leaves close up and branches dip down. You naturally smile when you see this amazing plant at work. Get more information at www.ticklemeplant.com. Make it part of #4 above.
9) Include a high-quality omega-3 oil supplement in your diet, and get direct sunshine or take a vitamin D3 supplement to optimize your vitamin D levels. Depleted levels in both can lead to imbalances associated with depression.
10) Watch comedies. Sing. Dance. Play with your favorite 4-legged friend. A pet is a great idea.
Be proactive. At a minimum, see your quality of life and positive attitude improve. Even better, the life you save with this turn to the positive may be your own.
So take these 11 steps today to brighten your life, and watch the difference it makes — no matter what your current state of health.