What role could emotions play in cancer prevention or treatment? “The best inspirer of hope is the best physician,” wrote the nineteenth century French neurologist, Jean Martin Charcot, a doctor as much renowned for his powers of observation as his medical techniques .
Today, after several centuries of shunting aside the power of hope in favor of medical technology, more and more modern physicians are realizing how important the human spirit is to health and to the battle to prevent and cure cancer disease.
Several studies have shown not only that the mind/body connection exists, but that it may be a very powerful force in fighting disease. The results of a study confirmed what many physicians and patients had believed for some time that the emotional support provided by cancer support groups affected in a positive way the outcome of treatment.
Dr. David Spiegel, a psychiatrist at Stanford University, divided a group of eighty six women, all of whom had metastatic breast cancer. One group was given standard medical care surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
The members of the other group received the same therapy but also were asked to meet once a week in a group therapy session in which emotions often dismissed by physicians concentrating on the strictly physical aspects of cancer were expressed, discussed, and confronted.
The immediate effects surprised few people: the women who had the support of fellow cancer patients and a qualified leader reported fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety, and pain than those in the other group. After all, they had more opportunities to express their emotions and find solutions to problems.
What did surprise Spiegel and other physicians were the long range effects of support groups. Several years later, Spiegel made a startling discovery: Those who took part in the group psychotherapy lived twice as long after they entered the study as the group that received only standard medical care.
Another study, conducted at the Malignant Melanoma Clinic in San Francisco by psychologist Lydia Temoshob, shows similar results. Cancer patients who displayed an overreaching need to be in control and who were unable to express their emotions (whom Temoshob termed Type C patients) did not respond as well to treatment as did their more expressive and more relaxed counterparts.
One of the most famous and well documented studies of the mind/body connection and cancer patients was performed in the late 1970s by Dr. 0. Carl Simonton and his wife, Stephanie Matthew SimOfltOfl. The Simontons developed a meditation and visualization program to help men and women with cancer tap into the power of their own emotions.
In an interview for the book, The Practical Encyclopedia of Natural Healing, Dr. Simonton states his beliefs this way, “You the cancer patient may actually, through a power within you, be able to decide whether you will live or die, and if you choose to live, you can be instrumental in choosing the quality of life you want.”
In 1979, the Simontons published a study that shows that people with cancer who allowed their minds and emotions to play a role in the treatment of cancer lived two times longer than those who received medical treatment alone.
Cancer remains one of the nation’s most intransigent health concerns, but one for which new advances are being made every day. By focusing on the profound role of hormones, like estrogen and testosterone and, yes, melatonin have opened the door on a new world of cancer research.