Psychological Angle 
of Cancer

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Many "causes" are associated with cancer. Some of these causes have to do with the environment we live in, some with what we put in our bodies by way of food, drinks , medicines, and some with what goes on in the body and the mind. 

The list of agents that can cause, or are associated with cancer is enormous. It is like we are floating on the surface of the ocean of cancer all the time, and most of the time we stay on course on top of the water , but we don't know when a hole may appear in the raft, the boat capsize, or the engine may break down. Perhaps, the "captain" may become tired, stressed out, or sleepy, allowing the boat to be pulled into the swirling currents.

There are special circumstances and occasions that make us vulnerable to cancer. A person might have lived all his life in an unhealthy environment, surrounded by multiple carcinogens for years and remains cancer free, and then one day, without any significant external change, that person all of a sudden develops cancer. Nothing changed in the environment; diet and habits of the person remained the same, so what did change? Were there psychological and social reasons that made this person vulnerable to cancer?

Researchers are trying to answer such questions. Seven major hospitals, including the University of Washington School of Medicine and Louisiana Veteran Administration Hospital, conducted a cancer study looking at the physical, psychological, and social events in the lives of patients before they got cancer. They concluded that the single most important event for cancer in the adults is not the chemicals, pollutants, toxins, or any other so called "carcinogens" in a person's environment--it is the loss of a loved one or a major painful change in life within five years of the onset of cancer. 

In fact, 73% of adults with cancer have had a significant loss or a major change in life which people identified as unmanageable, occurred within five years of the onset of cancer.  No other cause comes even close to loss. As a result, loss or unmanageable stress may well be the single most important predictor for cancer.

Loss, perhaps, impairs the will to live. We all have heard stories that Uncle Joe or Granny Martha died of a tumor, a stroke, or a heart attack that did not come too long after his or her spouse died. What we may not realize that it didn't just happen with Uncle Joe and Granny Martha. According to a study on spouses who were married for 20 years or longer, in 50% of the cases, the surviving spouse died of some disease within two years of the loss of their spouse, regardless of their age. Only 50% of them survived a loss beyond two years-- such is the devastating impact of loss on our will to live. 

How is it that killers like cancer are related to psychological-emotional factors. Perhaps, an emotional breakdown leads to a breakdown of the body's defense. Something causes the immune system to become hostile and turn upon itself and on the body that it is supposed to protect. Applying this thinking to cancer, cancer cells regularly show up and are destroyed by our immune system all the time, but one day, the immune system does not do its job. The "surveillance theory" of immune system maintains that we destroy cancer cells hundreds and thousands of time before we ever get cancer. One day the immune system loses it's surveillance capacity. For some reason, it does not want to identify the cancer cells, or it allows the cancer cells do the damage without putting up an effective resistance.

In the summary, the efficiency of our immune system depends on many physical and emotional conditions. Our immune system is perhaps ultimately governed by our will to live and depends on matters, such as the overall sense of emotional and spiritual well-being, the degree of contentedness, happiness, and personal satisfaction, and the feeling of being loved, needed and valued by others.

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



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