From BBC News today:

Loneliness makes cancer ‘more likely and deadly’

Doctors know depressed cancer patients have poorer survival rates. Fresh evidence adds weight to suggestions that loneliness makes cancer both more likely and deadly.  Work in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science shows social isolation tips the odds in favour of aggressive cancer growth.

Rodents kept alone developed more tumours – and tumours of a more deadly type – than rats living as a group. The researchers put it down to stress and say the same may well be true in humans. Cancer experts say more work is needed to prove such a link in people. Lead investigator Gretchen Hermes, of Yale University, said: “There is growing interest in relationships between the environment, emotion and disease. “This study offers insight into how the social world gets under the skin.”


Doctors already know that cancer patients who are depressed tend to fare worse in terms of survival.  And previous research has suggested that social support can improve health outcomes for patients with breast cancer. In the latest study, the researchers found that isolation and stress trebled the risk of breast cancer in the naturally sociable Norway rats. Outcast rodents developed 84 times the amount of tumours as those living in tight-knit social groups, and the tumours also proved to be more aggressive. The isolated mammals also had higher levels of the stress hormone corticosterone and took longer to recover from a stressful situation than fellow Norway rats.  The researchers ultimately hope their work will help cancer patients.


Co-researcher Martha McClintock, a psychologist at the University of Chicago, said: “We need to use these findings to identify potential targets for intervention to reduce cancer.”  Ed Yong, of Cancer Research UK, said: “This study was done in rats. “Overall, research in humans does not suggest there is a direct link between stress and breast cancer. “But it’s possible that stressful situations could indirectly affect the risk of cancer by making people more likely to take up unhealthy behaviours that increase their risk, such as overeating, heavy drinking, or smoking.”

The new issue of *Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine* (vol.
163, #6, June) includes an article: "Peace of Mind and Sense of Purpose
as Core Existential Issues Among Parents of Children With Cancer."

The authors are Jennifer W. Mack, MD, MPH; Joanne Wolfe, MD, MPH; E.
Francis Cook, ScD; Holcombe E. Grier, MD; Paul D. Cleary, PhD; & Jane C.
Weeks, MD, MSc.

Here are parts of the abstract:

The objective was to evaluate issues experienced by parents of children with cancer and
factors related to parents' ability to find peace of mind.

One hundred ninety-four parents of children with cancer (response rate,
70%) in the first year of cancer treatment were involved.

The main Outcome Measure was the Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy-Spiritual Well-
being sense of meaning subscale. This taps peace of mind and sense of purpose.

Most parents had a strong sense of purpose, but lacked peace of mind 
representing the strongest sense of peace or purpose. Parents had higher 
peace of mind scores when they also reported that
they trusted the oncologist's judgment, that the oncologist had disclosed
detailed prognostic information, and that
the oncologist had provided high-quality information about the cancer.
Peace of mind was not associated with prognosis or time since diagnosis.


Physicians may be able to facilitate formulation of peace of mind by
giving parents high-quality medical information, including prognostic
information, and facilitating parents' trust.

Courtesy of Ken Pope

The American Cancer Society issued the following announcement:

Psychological interventions associated with breast cancer survival

A new study finds that breast cancer patients who participate in
intervention sessions focusing on improving mood, coping effectively,
and altering health behaviors live longer than patients who do not
receive such psychological support. Published in the December 15, 2008
issue of CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society,
the study indicates that reducing the stress that can accompany cancer
diagnosis and treatment can have a significant impact on patients’ survival.


The *British Medical Journal* issued the following announcement:

A healthy lifestyle halves the risk of premature death in women

Research paper: Combined impact of lifestyle factors on mortality: a
prospective cohort study in US women

Over half of deaths in women from chronic diseases such as cancer and
heart disease could be avoided if they never smoke, keep their weight in
check, take exercise and eat a healthy diet low in red meat and trans-
fats, according to a study published on today.

The European Institute of Oncology issued the following announcement:

Antidepressants May Help Fight Cancer By Boosting Body’s Immune Response

Article Date: 14 Sep 2008 – 0:00 PDT

A comprehensive review of current scientific literature, published in
the peer-reviewed journal ecancer, has suggested that antidepressants
can help the human body fight cancer by boosting its own immune
response, amongst other mechanisms.


Positive Thinking May Protect Against Breast Cancer

Feelings of happiness and optimism play a positive role against breast cancer. New research suggests that while staying positive has a protective role, adverse life events such as the loss of a parent or close relative, divorce or the loss of a spouse can increase a woman’s risk of developing the disease

Ronit Peled from the Faculty of Health Sciences at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, led a team of researchers who questioned 255 women with breast cancer and 367 healthy controls about their life experiences and evaluated their levels of happiness, optimism, anxiety and depression prior to diagnosis. Peled said, “Young women who have been exposed to a number of negative life events should be considered an ‘at-risk’ group for breast cancer and should be treated accordingly”.

The researchers do point out that women were interviewed after their diagnosis, which may colour their recall of their past emotional state somewhat negatively. However, according to Peled, “We can carefully say that experiencing more than one severe and/or mild to moderate life event is a risk factor for breast cancer among young women. On the other hand, a general feeling of happiness and optimism can play a protective role”.

The authors point out that, “The mechanism in which the central nervous, hormonal and immune systems interact and how behaviour and external events modulate these three systems is not fully understood”. As such, they suggest that “The relationship between happiness and health should be examined in future studies and relevant preventative initiatives should be developed”.

Journal reference:

1. Ronit Peled, Devora Carmil, Orly Siboni-Samocha and Ilana Shoham-Vardi. Breast cancer, psychological distress and life events among young women. BMC Cancer, (in press)

This morning’s *New York Times* includes an article: “In Cancer Therapy,
There Is a Time to Treat and a Time to Let Go” by Jane Brody.

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

Thirty years ago Forbes Hill of Brooklyn learned he had prostate cancer.
At age 50, with a young wife and a fear of the common side effects of
treatment — incontinence and impotence — he chose what oncologists call
“watchful waiting.” For 12 years, Mr. Hill was fine. Then in 1990 his
PSA count, a measure of cancer activity, began to rise, and he had
radiation therapy. That dropped the count to near zero. In 2000, with
the count up again, he chose hormone therapy, which worked for a while.

Three years ago, with his PSA level going through the roof, he learned
that the cancer had spread to his bones and liver. It was time for
chemotherapy, which Mr. Hill said he knew could not cure him but might
slow the cancer’s progress and prolong his life.

The University of Liverpool made the following announcement:

Depression Found To Hasten Decline In Cancer Patients

Depression causes patients with advanced cancer to die sooner than they
should, say scientists at the University of Liverpool. (more…)

6/26/2007 The new issue of the American Psychological Association’s *Psychological
Bulletin* (vol. 133, @3) includes an article: “Psychotherapy and
survival in cancer: The conflict between hope and evidence” by James
Coyne, Michael Stefanek, & Steven Palmer.”

Here’s how the article begins:

[begin excerpt]

The belief that psychological factors affect the progression of cancer
has become prevalent among the lay public and some oncology
professionals (Doan, Gray, & Davis, 1993; Lemon & Edelman, 2003). An
extension of this belief is that improvement in psychological
functioning can prolong the survival after a diagnosis of cancer. Were
this true, psychotherapy could not only benefit mood and quality of life
but increase life expectancy as well. Indeed, there is some lay
acceptance of this notion, as a substantial proportion of women with
breast cancer attending support groups do so believing they may be
extending their lives (Miller et al., 1998).


8/14/2007 *New York Times* includes an article: “Thriving After Life’s Bum Rap” by Jane Brody.

Here’s the artticle:

Can getting cancer make you happy? For Betty Rollin, survivor of two
breast cancers, there’s no question about it. In her newest book,
“Here’s the Bright Side,” Ms. Rollin recounts:

“I woke up one morning and realized I was happy. This struck me as
weird. Not that I didn’t have all kinds of things to be happy about —
love, work, good health, enough money, the usual happy-making stuff. The
weird part is, I realized that the source of my happiness was, of all
things, cancer — that cancer had everything to do with how good the good
parts of my life were.”

Her realization is hardly unique. I have met and read about countless
people who, having faced life-threatening illness, end up happier,
better able to appreciate the good things and people in their lives,
more willing to take the time to smell the roses.