Impact of Attitudes and Feelings on Cancer

When a person is told they have cancer, they might find themselves thinking:

  • Did I bring the cancer on myself?
  • Can having a positive attitude improve my chance of my cancer being cured?
  • Can support groups and counseling help me live longer?
  • Can I control the cancer by focusing on how my body is fighting the cancer or by thinking myself well?

Research has looked at each of these topics. The information below describes what current research shows.

Did I bring the cancer on myself?

Your personality and emotions did not cause your cancer. Research on this topic has not shown a link between personality and overall cancer risk. Also, personality traits and attitude do not affect cancer survival.

Can having a positive attitude improve my chance of surviving cancer?

Many people with cancer are told by family and friends to stay positive. But sadness, distress, depression, fear, and anxiety are all normal feelings when learning to deal with cancer. Ignoring these feelings or not talking about them can make the person with cancer feel alone. And this can make it harder for them to cope with how they are feeling .

Studies have shown that keeping a positive attitude does not change the course of a person’s cancer. Trying to keep a positive attitude does not lead to a longer life and can cause some people to feel guilty when they can’t “stay positive.” This only adds to their burden.

Instead, a person with cancer should talk about their feelings. Many people find it helpful to join a support group or seek counseling. Working through their feelings can help a person with cancer feel more optimistic. And this optimism can lead to a better quality of life.

Can support groups and counseling help people live longer?

Research has not shown that support groups or counseling help people with cancer live longer. However, there are many benefits to people with cancer who participate in support groups.

Research shows that giving people with cancer information in a support group helps reduce tension, anxiety, and tiredness, and may lower the risk of depression. Being in a support group may also improve feelings of well-being and quality of life.

Can I control the cancer growth by focusing on how my body is fighting the cancer or by thinking myself well?

Research has not shown that guided imagery or other similar techniques can control cancer growth. They also do not help a person with cancer live longer. However, these techniques can help with many symptoms related to cancer and cancer treatment. Some of these include pain, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and retching, anxiety and depression. Practicing guided imagery and relaxation may help improve quality of life.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Carlson LE, Doll R, Stephen J, Faris P, Tamagawa R, Drysdale E, Speca M. Randomized controlled trial of mindfulness-based cancer recovery versus supportive expressive group therapy for distressed survivors of breast cancer
(MINDSET). J Clin Oncol. 2013; 31:3119-3126.

 Charalambous A, Giannakopoulou M, Bozas E, Marcou Y, Kitsios P, Paikousis L. Guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation as a cluster of symptoms management intervention in patients receiving chemotherapy: A randomized control trial. PLoS One. 2016. 11(6):e0156911. 

 Chen SF, Wang HH, Yang HY, Chung UL. Effect of relaxation with guided imagery on the physical and psychological symptoms of breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Iran Red Crescent Med J. 2015 Nov 28;17(11):e31277.

 Coyne JC, Stefanek M, Palmer SC. Psychotherapy and survival in cancer: the conflict between hope and evidence. Psychol Bull.  2007;133:367-394.

 de Rooij BH, Thong MSY, van Roij J, Bonhof CS, Husson O, Ezendam NPM. Optimistic, realistic, and pessimistic illness  perceptions; quality of life; and survival among 2457 cancer survivors: the population-based PROFILES registry. Cancer.  2018 Sep 1;124(17):3609-3617. 

Hu A. Reflections: The value of patient support groups. Otolaryngology--head and Neck Surgery: Official Journal of American Academy of Otolaryngology-head and Neck Surgery. 2017 Apr;156(4):587-588 

Kim ES, Hagan KA, Grodstein F, DeMeo DL, De Vivo I, Kubzansky LD. Optimism and Cause-Specific Mortality: A Prospective Cohort Study. Am J Epidemiol. 2017;185(1):21-29.

Naseem Z, Khalid R. Positive thinking in coping with stress and health outcomes: Literature review. Journal of Research and  Reflections in Education. 2010; 4(1): 42-61. 

Ruthig JC, Holfeld B, Hanson BL.The role of positive thinking in social perceptions of cancer outcomes. Psychol Health. 2012; 27:1244-1258.

Weis J. Support groups for cancer patients. Support Care Cancer. 2003 Dec;11(12):763-8. 

References

Carlson LE, Doll R, Stephen J, Faris P, Tamagawa R, Drysdale E, Speca M. Randomized controlled trial of mindfulness-based cancer recovery versus supportive expressive group therapy for distressed survivors of breast cancer
(MINDSET). J Clin Oncol. 2013; 31:3119-3126.

 Charalambous A, Giannakopoulou M, Bozas E, Marcou Y, Kitsios P, Paikousis L. Guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation as a cluster of symptoms management intervention in patients receiving chemotherapy: A randomized control trial. PLoS One. 2016. 11(6):e0156911. 

 Chen SF, Wang HH, Yang HY, Chung UL. Effect of relaxation with guided imagery on the physical and psychological symptoms of breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Iran Red Crescent Med J. 2015 Nov 28;17(11):e31277.

 Coyne JC, Stefanek M, Palmer SC. Psychotherapy and survival in cancer: the conflict between hope and evidence. Psychol Bull.  2007;133:367-394.

 de Rooij BH, Thong MSY, van Roij J, Bonhof CS, Husson O, Ezendam NPM. Optimistic, realistic, and pessimistic illness  perceptions; quality of life; and survival among 2457 cancer survivors: the population-based PROFILES registry. Cancer.  2018 Sep 1;124(17):3609-3617. 

Hu A. Reflections: The value of patient support groups. Otolaryngology--head and Neck Surgery: Official Journal of American Academy of Otolaryngology-head and Neck Surgery. 2017 Apr;156(4):587-588 

Kim ES, Hagan KA, Grodstein F, DeMeo DL, De Vivo I, Kubzansky LD. Optimism and Cause-Specific Mortality: A Prospective Cohort Study. Am J Epidemiol. 2017;185(1):21-29.

Naseem Z, Khalid R. Positive thinking in coping with stress and health outcomes: Literature review. Journal of Research and  Reflections in Education. 2010; 4(1): 42-61. 

Ruthig JC, Holfeld B, Hanson BL.The role of positive thinking in social perceptions of cancer outcomes. Psychol Health. 2012; 27:1244-1258.

Weis J. Support groups for cancer patients. Support Care Cancer. 2003 Dec;11(12):763-8. 

Last Revised: December 4, 2020

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