Oncology is the stuff of hard medicine—chemicals, radiation, hormones, and surgery. Cancer is a formidable foe, and doctors bring out the best and most aggressive tools that they have to fight the invasion of the body by this potentially deadly disease. The strength of the treatments take their toll not just on the cancerous cells, but healthy ones as well, leading to the well-known side effects of cancer treatments, which many patients experience as even more debilitating than the cancer itself.

 But as we’ve already discussed, there is much more to having cancer than simply diagnosing and treating it. Any cancer patient knows that the emotions involved—fear, vulnerability, sadness, anger, among a host of others—are as much a part of the experience as radiation, chemotherapy, or surgery. Earlier generations of cancer patients may have felt it best to keep these emotions to themselves—to keep a “stiff upper lip”—in the face of their psychological turmoil. But the more open generation of Baby Boomers is slowly, but surely, changing that model.

Psychological Factors & Cancer Outcomes

And there is good reason to be more open with the emotional side of cancer—not just in terms of education and support, but also in terms of survival. Research at the Center for Integrative Medicine at Stanford University has shown significant benefits for cancer patients from psychological interventions, “including reduced distress, better coping and stress management, greater quality of life, enhanced pain control, less depression, prevention of trauma symptoms, and more self-esteem, life satisfaction, social functioning, and hopefulness….Most studies also showed a survival benefit, particularly among cancers associated with a poor prognosis.”

Baby Boomers, with their increased willingness to talk about cancer, seem intuitively to understand that there is a body-mind connection—that a disease of the body has a profound effect on the mind. But what about the mind’s influence on the body? This is perhaps less intuitively clear to many cancer patients—and may even seem the stuff of New Age mystics to some. But recent research is demonstrating that taking care of one’s mental health really does influence the progression of disease. While far from offering an alternative to the traditional tools of oncology, psychology can still play an important supporting role alongside the “hard medicine” in our generation’s approach to dealing with cancer.

QUESTION: What are some positive or negative ways in which your mental outlook has affected the course of your own cancer, or the cancer of someone close to you?

SOURCE: Betsy B. Freed, “Nothing Soft About Psycho-Oncology,”

The Oncology Report. (July 2, 2012) (Accessed July 21, 2012). Login required.



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