Sunday, November 29, 2009

Anger and its Relationship to Cancer

The relationship between cancer and emotional states is somewhat unclear. It may be that anger, as a prime contributor to stress, is either a cause of cancer or, through the damage it does to the immune system, a prime contributor to its rate of growth and spread.

Or perhaps its being "nice" that's the prime contributor to the growth and spread of cancer and venting anger may be the force that contributes to its cure.

Should victims of cancer put on their game face and go to war against the disease, raging against the ravages of cruel fate, or should they relax into a positive frame of mind and just let the stress go?

Let's look at some of the latest research.

"Extremely low anger scores have been noted in numerous studies of patients with cancer. Such low scores suggest suppression, repression, or restraint of anger. There is evidence to show that suppressed anger can be a precursor to the development of cancer, and also a factor in its progression after diagnosis. Some studies indicate that it may be beneficial for patients to mobilize anger to battle their cancer. However, there is a paucity of research on the outcomes of various anger interventions. Longitudinal studies that repeatedly measure anger and other moods over the disease trajectory are needed...."
--Thomas SP, Groer M, Davis M, Droppleman P, Mozingo J, Pierce M.
College of Nursing, University of Tennessee

"Scientists and researchers have long argued about whether repressed anger predisposes women to breast cancer, and the controversy will probably continue for some time. About 20 years ago, several studies determined that women who have breast cancer and assert themselves live longer and have a better prognosis than women who do not have that "fighting spirit." A more recent study contradicts this finding, but does support and give weight to another conclusion: Women with breast cancer who feel helpless and hopeless do significantly worse than those who have a sense of power to help themselves."

"Studies have been conducted in which a group of happy individuals and a group of angry individuals were exposed to a cold virus. The results showed that the angry people got sick while they happy people stayed healthy...(However) It doesn’t matter if you maintain the healthiest diet in the world, exercise regularly and do everything else possible to stay healthy: bottling up your anger suppresses your immune system and makes you much more susceptible to cancer."
--Dr. Laurence Magne

"Extracts from Patrick Swayze's autobiography have revealed the actor felt 'anger, bitterness and despair' when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Patrick Swayze sank into a state of 'anger, bitterness and despair' when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer."

"Results suggest that anger control and negative affect are not associated with breast cancer, melanoma, or total cancer risk, although they may have a small role in risk of prostate, colorectal, and lung cancer. Although more research is needed to confirm these latter associations, the results suggest that if affective states are associated with cancer development, the association may differ for different cancers and argue against the use of total cancer as an outcome measure for studies in this area."
--Victoria M. White, Dallas R. English, Hamish Coates, Magdalen Legerlund, Ron Borland, Graham G. Giles

"Studies have indicated that stress can affect tumor growth and spread, but the precise biological mechanisms underlying these effects are not well understood. Scientists have suggested that the effects of stress on the immune system may in turn affect the growth of some tumors (7). However, recent research using animal models indicates that the body’s release of stress hormones can affect cancer cell functions directly (8).

"A review of studies that evaluated psychological factors and outcome in cancer patients suggests an association between certain psychological factors, such as feeling helpless or suppressing negative emotions, and the growth or spread of cancer, although this relationship was not consistently seen in all studies (3). In general, stronger relationships have been found between psychological factors and cancer growth and spread than between psychological factors and cancer development..."
--National Institute of Health

"“Stress doesn’t give you cancer, but it is a risk factor like genetic differences, like environmental carcinogens. There are a whole bunch of risk factors. Not everybody that smokes tobacco gets lung cancer.”
--David Spiegel, associate chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine.

My own belief (in the absence of more consistent scientific evidence) is that being in a state of anger, is a contributor to the growth and spread of cancer. By "state of anger" I mean someone whose prime emotional response to life is negative and belligerent. Someone who has trapped anger inside them.

It is the opposite of someone who is occasionally angered by life's circumstances, or is just periodically in a bad mood (who me?)and vents.

But, at the moment this is just a hunch.