Although the cancer patients were given standard therapies, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, their survival rates varied widely—and one key factor was their psychological response to the disease, say researchers from University College London.
People who were distressed or anxious about having cancer were far less likely to survive across a range of different cancers. Leukaemia seems to be the one that is most affected by our mental outlook: people with negative thoughts were nearly four times more likely to die from the disease. Negative thoughts also influenced pancreatic cancer, with the death rate 2.76 times greater than in people with a neutral or more positive outlook, while those distressed by cancer of the oesophagus were 2.59 times more likely to die. Gloomy thoughts also made prostate cancer 2.42 times more deadly.
Researchers discovered this extraordinary mind-body connection when they analysed data—that had never before been published—on 163,363 men and women. During the 14 years they were monitored, 4,353 had died from cancer. Psychological profiles, where their response to the diagnosis was recorded, were gathered, and matched against the cancers, and other influences, such as smoking and heavy alcohol drinking, that may have impacted on mortality.
Conversely, a positive and optimistic outlook could help people survive cancer, the researchers suggest.