Psychological Self-Help

Navigation bar
  Home Print document View PDF document Start Previous page
 141 of 149 
Next page End Contents 136 137 138 139 140 141 142 143 144 145 146  

but in other disorders stress is not a cause but a result of having
certain physical problems. Breast and prostate cancers are cases in
point. Being told you have breast cancer or prostate cancer would set
off a near panic reaction in most of us. Many people still believe they
will die when they are told they have cancer. That is probably a
misunderstanding of the diagnosis. During the course of cancer,
patients report having continuing emotional distress, fatigue, lack of
energy, fears, depression, and interpersonal difficulties, in addition to
added financial, health insurance, and employment problems. Can
psychology help allay these high stress or depressive reactions? Often,
Will psychology pro-long your life? Probably not by directly slowing
the growth of cancer cells. In the late 1980's, a couple of well
publicized studies involved life-threatening cancer and appeared to
result in a higher survival rate several years later for those patients
who attended a support group than for those who did not get such a
treatment. Such a finding gets attention. Unfortunately, the treatment
and control groups may not have been well matched. The latest
research findings are a bit mixed but generally most scientists would
conclude that psychological treatment and/or positive thinking do NOT
prolong life (based, in part, on several cancer studies analyzed in 2002
by Dr. Edward Ernst at the University of Exeter). The earlier studies
may have created an exaggerated illusion of control over death. On
the other hand, there is clear evidence that psychological intervention,
education, and professionally run support groups can "improve the
quality of life for many cancer patients," not prolong their lives.
Psychologist-led groups can help with anxiety, depression, pessimistic
or suicidal thoughts, and family relationships. Behavioral interventions
can improve diets, exercising, compliance with doctor's orders, and
general health. Oncologists understand the need for these changes
and relief from emotional problems but as a profession they tend to
think it is someone else's job. In fact, about 20% of oncologists are
reportedly uncomfortable treating advanced cancer patients who are
dying. Other professionals, hospice workers, nurses, and mostly family
members will have to provide the needed support. 
Massive cancer research done during the 1990's produced
wonderful improvements in the physical treatment of cancer and
generally confirmed that psychological interventions can generally (but
not always) increase the quality of life in cancer victims. Much more
research is needed, however. Some peer support groups are helpful
but some may be harmful. I'd suggest you choose a support group led
by a professional--a psychologist or a social worker--experienced with
cancer. Several Web sites provide information about cancer: and American Cancer
Society (  and ( It may also be helpful to read
on those sites people's descriptions of their battles with cancer. Taylor
& Thompson (2002) share the moving but informative stories of 30
cancer patients. 
Previous page Top Next page

« Back