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Positive thinking and cancer

2nd September 2008

Positive thinking may have an impact on cancer, although the role of mental outlook in the disease is still controversial.

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Researchers at Ben-Gurion University in Israel have published results of a small study into the prevalence of breast cancer among women, depending on their outlook.

They say that women who have a positive outlook may decrease their chances of developing breast cancer.

Published in the journal BioMed Central, the study found that getting divorced, or being bereaved could increase the risk of developing the disease.

However, the women in the study were questioned after receiving a cancer diagnosis, which the researchers admitted might change their world view somewhat.

Expert Sarah Cant of Breakthrough Breast Cancer said that emotional stress is highly subjective and hard to measure accurately.

Some previous studies have suggested that state of mind might play a role in cancer, while others have found no significant effect, either on the likelihood of developing the illness in the first place, or on the person's chances of surviving it.

The Israeli study gave a questionnaire on mental outlook and life events to 255 women with breast cancer and compared their answers to those given by 367 healthy control subjects.

Those with a generally positive outlook apparently reduced their chances of developing breast cancer by a quarter, while exposure to one or more traumatic life events, such as loss of a parent or a spouse increased the risk by more than 60%.

Lead researcher Ronit Peled said that young women who had been exposed to one severe and/or moderate life event should be seen has having an increased risk factor for breast cancer among young women.

He said a general feeling of happiness and optimism could also play a protective role.

Cant said the women in the study were interviewed after breast cancer was diagnosed, when they may be more likely to recall feeling depression and anxiety.

She said researchers did not take other factors known to affect breast cancer risk such as family history or weight into account, and that breast cancer was a complex disease, for which a single cause was unlikely to be found.

 

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