Emotional wellbeing and cancer survival

There’s an interesting summary of an article published in the journal Cancer on the Cancer Research UK website: Emotional wellbeing found to have little influence on cancer survival. In a study of more than a thousand patients with head and neck cancers they found that ’emotional wellbeing’ did not seem to extend the patients life expectancy.

Those weren’t the results most people would have expected (except perhaps hardened sceptics*). As someone who is interested in working with cancer patients and their carers to reduce the level of emotional stress they experience as a result of the illness I find this study very interesting.

On the face of it the study doesn’t look like good news for my line of work.

Participants completed a questionnaire which revealed details about their quality of life, including emotional wellbeing.A total of 646 patients died during the study and the researchers found that emotional status was not a predictor of survival, regardless of a patient’s gender or how far their cancer had progressed.

I had a look at the FACT-G scale, the survey they used to evaluate the patients wellbeing, expecting to find an extensive inventory of a persons emotional and psychological state and found just 6 questions.

That seems like a bit of a blunt instrument to explore all the psychological and emotional facets of the cancer experience. I wonder if there are other emotional/psychological factors that were not measured that do have an affect on cancer survival rates.

Dr James Coyne, professor of psychology in psychiatry at the university, said: “The belief that a patient’s psychological state can impact the course and outcome of their cancer is one that has been prominent among patients and medical professionals alike.This belief leads people to seek psychotherapy in the hopes of promoting survival.”

Dr Coyne … said that patients who want psychotherapy or to attend a support group should be given the opportunity to do so, as there can be “lots of emotional and social benefits”.

“But they should not seek such experiences solely on the expectation that they are extending their lives,” he insisted.

I don’t advertise my work as being able to treat cancer or extend life. My intention is to improve the quality of life of the people concerned as best I can. Let’s for a moment assume that this study is the final word (highly unlikely) and that your emotional state has no bearing on your survival times. That would be unfortunate, but not a good reason to stop offering psychological support to cancer patients.

If we could, and I think we can, reduce the level of suffering experienced by a cancer patient then that would be well worth doing in it’s own right regardless of whether it added a minute to their lives or not. In my opinion it’s the quality of life that matters and to experience some emotional wellbeing during the course of the illness whatever it’s outcome seems to me to be very worthwhile.

* Two of the informed sceptical responses can be found here and here .

4 thoughts on “Emotional wellbeing and cancer survival

  1. Hello Andy,

    What do you think of the German New Medicine of Dr.Hamer? He discoveried most cancers and other diseases are related to specific biological conflict shocks. These conflicts don’t affect the general “emotional wellbeing”, because biological conflicts are very specific; moreover they are unknown by psychology or psychiatry.

    The article you comment is consistent with Hamer’ theory because he discoveried that most cancer appear in “healing phase” (the phase after the solution of the biological conflict. It includes brain and neck cancer). So, most cancer patients can have “emotional wellbeing” (according to psychological criteria and techniques like “questionnares”) but die of complications (e.g. brain complications; metastases caused by another active biological conflicts; aggresive treatments, etc.).

    I’d like to know your informed opinion about Dr.Hamer’works. Please, take the time to read the following links:
    http://www.germannewmedicine.ca/documents/stangl_21082006.html (Letter from the president of the Medical Officer Association of Lower Austria, who tested the German New Medicine on 250 cases)

    Most criticisms against Dr.Hamer’s discoveries came from conventional medicine “guardians” and propagandists or (so-called “quackbusters”):

    These people attack any kind of alternative theory/therapy (like ETF, NLP, natural medicine, energy psychology, etc. as you can read in their “skeptical” websites).

    Best regards!!

  2. Hi Deya,

    I think it’s more or less impossible for me to answer the detail of your comments. I don’t know enough about these people, their theories or their detractors.*

    In general I’m sympathetic to the sceptical point of view. Which might sound like a surprising admission from someone in my line of work. I think I’m quite selective about the sceptics I sympathise with though.

    This whole field is full of competing claims both financial and philosophical. Under those circumstances it’s bound to get like a bear pit. Sides are taken, trenches are dug and shots are fired.

    In my opinion the techniques that work will be validated in the end by the judicious use of the scientific method. I have no idea when that will be. Research is an expensive business and there are quite a few groups in this fight who wouldn’t want to pay for research that puts them at a social or financial disadvantage. By the way, I think that is true for all sides of this fight.

    In the meantime I’m cautious. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that cancer was triggered or encouraged by traumatic experiences or prolonged stress. I think proving that beyond the level of anecdote would be a monumental task. I wouldn’t be surprised that by relieving the original trauma if it exists that it would change the course of the disease. But my not being surprised doesn’t constitute proof of any kind.

    Many people are making all kinds of claims (often contradictory) about cancer, the causes of cancer and what you can do to treat cancer. I think people who have cancer are in an immensely vulnerable position. In their understandable desperation for a cure they will try anything, which is a situation that is ripe for exploitation, or well meaning but misguided attempts to help. Therefore I think we need to use the utmost care.

    I offer stress relief for cancer patients and their carers. I do know that it’s possible to reduce people’s stress levels and relieve their fears and anxieties using EFT and other techniques. It’s quite easy to test that and find out. I think the jury is out on the level of benefit that would have from a medical point of view. I wouldn’t offer any opinion about a suitable course of treatment for the illness itself because I just don’t know.

    * I do have one opinion about some of Doctor Hamer’s evidence. He shows photographs of MRI scans with what look like concentric circles radiating out from what is alleged to be the site of the trauma in the brain. I find them unconvincing. The rings are much too perfect. In my previous employment I wrote and used image analysis software for medical/life sciences and although I don’t know much about anatomy I can say that it is ‘squishy’ which is to say that most biological systems are not at all symmetrically perfect. I think those photos are of an artefact of the scanning system.

    This answer went on far longer than I thought.

  3. Hello Andy,

    Thanks for your answer. I also consider myself as a critical person. But my criticism isn’t only against “paranormal” or “alternative” medicine, but against any kind of intellectual fraud or falsehood. And in this group, I include specially the pseudo-skeptics:

    (Sorry for my use of links and references, but I like to document my opinions.)

    Most of the so-called “skeptics” aren’t critical thinkers seeking the truth, but pseudoskeptical debunkers (most of them motived by ideological worldview, like materialism, neopositivism, atheism… and in certain and exceptional cases, also by religious fundamentalism). It isn’t a ad hominem attack, but a exact and testable description of their personality (any reader may examine my assertions, simply reading with a critical eye their literature)

    Any rational person tries to seek the truth, based on evidence (not absolute proof, but acumulative evidence). Any critical examination of most “skeptical” websites, books and literature will show their doble standards, clever rhetoric tricks, criticism based on speculation or in uncritical acceptation of conventional theories , ingenious ad hominem attacks and absence of criticism against orthodox science.

    Of course, there are a few exceptions, but I’m refering to the general rule.

    Regarding Dr.Hamer’s discoveries and theory:

    1)His evidence of concentric circles (Hamer Focus) in the brain isn’t based MRI scans but computer tomographs (in fact, most Hamer Focus can’t be seen in MRI scans, except when the conflict have lasted many years or in healing phase when the Hamer Focus appears as a brain tumor)

    2)Most rings (Hamer Focus) aren’t perfect. In the literature of Dr.Hamer, most Hamer Focus are irregular, sometimes diffuses, and with many kinds of configurations (depending in the phase of the conflict; for example, concentric rings only can be seen in the active conflict phase or sympathicotonic phase; in the healing phase, we can’t see the concentric rings anymore but cerebral edema)

    3)Artifacts do exists. It’s well known in radiology. But Hamer Focus also exists (It isn’t know), and may be distingued from artifacts, according to several criteria (e.g. Dr.Hamer contacted Siemens, the company that produce apparatus of tomography, and they established a series of differentiative facts between Hamer Focus and artifacts: http://germannewmedicine.ca/documents/siemenexpertise.html )

    The example shown in the GNM website is only used as an (ideal) example, but most concentric rings don’t look so perfect.

    The basic difference between Hamer Focus and artifacts is: Hamer Focus always appears in the same place in case of the same type of cancer. For example, in case a cervical carcinoma, the Hamer Focus is always (in the form of edema) in the temporal lobe of the left cerebral hemisphere. It can’t be said of “artifacts”.

    Of course, if you ask any radiologist, he tell you that ALL that concentric rings are artifacts. But to a critical reader it isn’t enough. In his books, Dr.Hamer shows as a supposed “artifact” change to a “brain edema” and then, in some cases, to a “brain tumor”, when the conflict is resolved. He shows all the patient’s consecutive scans, before and after, so you may see the complete sequence. To a critical reader, the “artifacts hypothesis” isn’t convincing in these cases.

    Of course, we can make some critical observations about the GNM and Dr.Hamer:

    1)Dr.Hamer, as far I know, don’t have any article published in serious peer review journals (like nature, science, cancer, JAMA, etc.). So, most scientists have the “right” to think Dr.Hamer have not given any kind of serious scientific evidence.

    (By the way, most alternative theories in science aren’t published in top-rated peer review journals like Nature, Science, JAMA, etc. This includes EFT, NLP, energy psychology and medicine, natural medicine, parapsychology, etc.). Part of the reason, is that peer review system is biased in favor of conventional theories (confirmatory prejudice), as shown in this experimental research:

    2)By the above reason, Dr.Hamer only have documented in his own books the cases of healings using his methods. It’s, by itself, not convincing to most scientists. (It also can be said for most alternative medicine theories)

    3)Dr.Hamer attitude have been confrontational and polemic. It causes innecesary resistence and confrontations, based on rhetoric and words, but not in scientific scrutiny.

    4)Dr.Hamer claims are absolutes. He leaves no rooms to other causes of cancer.

    5)The GNM may be wrong. Only scientific evidence will tell us. Personally, I think Dr.Hamer is (partially) right. However, we shouldn’t be dogmatic and we should be open to any kind of testable evidence for or against the GNM.

    As I said earlier, most criticism against Dr.Hamer is based on anecdotal, unreliable and biased evidence or systematic use of doble standards (e.g. “X numbers of patients died using the GNM”, but omitting at the same time the thousand of patients victims of the conventional medicine each year, as documented by this paper published in JAMA: http://www.noblindmen.com/Is%20US%20Health%20Really%20the%20Best.htm ). Are the numbers of patients (supposedly) died using this or that therapy, an evidence of their falsehood?

    Sorry for my long comments, but I thought I should make some points clear about the GNM and my specific thoughts on it. Thanks for your time in reading my comments and congratulations for your excelent website.

  4. Hi Deya,

    Thanks for your comprehensive reply. My comments are going to look like small fry next to that. I found your links very interesting. Pseudo-scepticism isn’t something I’d heard before, but I recognise they symptoms. Isn’t this world of ideas crowded?

    I’d not heard of Marcello Truzzi before but I think I’m in favour of his agnostic position. Personally I think the problem is to have your mind open enough to let new stuff in but not so open that your brain falls out! That’s quite a balancing act. I’m not going to get into who is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ sceptic. That’s the way fights start 🙂

    You are obviously far more informed about Dr Hamer’s work than I am. By the way thanks for correcting my confusing MRI with tomographs. Curious that a focus would not display on one rather than the other. But it’s not my area of expertise.

    As for your specific points. I agree with your first point that not having papers published in peer review journals puts him at a disadvantage and that there is a bias against unconventional ideas in the literature. That’s an unfortunate chicken and egg situation for him.

    In your second point you can say that the evidence is only anecdotal for EFT and therefore doesn’t count. Sooner or later I think research will be done that demonstrates it’s worth. In the meantime the lack of research argument will be used with abandon by people who are dubious/hostile about this stuff.

    Your third and fourth points make Dr Hamer sound like his own worst enemy. I hope that other scientists will take up his ideas and do their own experiments. Once someone gets repeatable results from experiments it gets a lot harder to dismiss the ideas as the idiocy of one man.

    In the end although the scientific method is run by fallible people I think it will get closer to the truth. If Dr Hamer is right or at least partially right then we have another way to address cancer and relieve a lot of suffering, and that’s point as far as I’m concerned.

    Thanks for your comprehensive comments and your kind words.

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