Do feelings affect cancer?

Many people who are considering using complementary therapies wonder if there is a link between cancer and psychological factors, such as emotions and stress.

Here, we go through some of the questions people have asked and the research that’s been done around feelings and cancer.

Are people with particular personality types more likely to get cancer?

Some people believe that people with certain personality types are more likely to get cancer. Others think that personality may affect how long someone with cancer will live for, or whether they may die from cancer.

One large study has shown no medical evidence that people with certain personality types are more likely to get cancer. The same study showed that personality had no effect on the outcome of those who already have cancer.

Can stress cause cancer?

Some people believe that their cancer was caused by stress. The stress may have been caused by a traumatic event, or being exposed to stressful situations over a long period of time. It’s very difficult to research whether stress can cause cancer. This is because everyone reacts differently to stress.

Stress may increase our risk of cancer because at difficult times in life, some people may start unhealthy behaviours. This can include smoking or drinking too much alcohol. Studies currently show that stress can result in slight changes to the body’s immune system. But there’s no evidence this causes cancer or affects its growth.

Can attitude affect cancer?

Some people feel that a positive attitude helps when coping with cancer and its treatments. But a positive attitude means different things to different people – it doesn’t mean you have to be cheerful all the time.

Cancer can make people feel helpless and too tired to be positive and ‘fight’ the cancer. This doesn’t mean that their attitude lowers their chance of a good outcome from treatment.

It’s important to talk to your doctor or nurse if you feel anxious or depressed. There’s help available for your emotional, as well as your physical, well-being. Trying to be positive shouldn’t become a burden. Very few people are optimistic all the time, and it’s natural and understandable to feel down sometimes.

Can changing my attitude and level of stress help?

Anything that helps you cope in your own way is valuable. Many of the ideas behind complementary therapies suggest that a change of attitude can affect the outlook. But it would be difficult for medical evidence to show whether a change of attitude alone can help with cancer, symptoms or side effects. But many people find complementary therapies helpful, and they can contribute to a sense of well-being and better quality of life.