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Friday, 8 November, 2002, 06:13 GMT
Attitude 'irrelevant' to cancer fight
Chest x-ray
Cancer treatments are becoming more advanced
There is little evidence of a link between a positive mental attitude and a person's ability to survive cancer, researchers have found.

A new study, published in the British Medical Journal, reviewed 26 pieces of research to test popular beliefs about being positive.

The Glasgow-based researchers hoped to see if there was a link between survival from cancer and different psychological coping styles, such as "fighting spirit", hopelessness, denial and avoidance.

Breast, lung, and gastrointestinal cancers, as well as leukaemia and melanoma, were covered in the studies examined.

Mammogram
The researchers examined 26 studies on cancer

They also included data on follow up periods ranging between several months to 15 years.

The research team, led by Mark Petticrew of the Medical Research Council's Social and Public Health Sciences Unit in Glasgow, said a link between the way people cope with cancer and their chance of survival was "biologically plausible".

But they found little scientific basis for the belief that coping styles played an important part in survival from or recurrence of cancer.

The authors said: "It is commonly believed that a person's mental attitude affects his or her chances of surviving cancer and the psychological coping factors that are most well known in this respect are fighting spirit and helplessness/hopelessness.

"We found little convincing evidence that either of these factors play a clinically important part in survival from or recurrence of cancer; the significant findings that do exist are confined to a few small studies."

They said there was no good evidence to support the development of schemes that promoted certain mental attitudes to try to prolong survival.

And they concluded: "People with cancer should not feel pressurised in adopting particular coping styles to improve survival or reduce the risk of recurrence."

Don't panic

Health psychologist Dr Jill Graham of the Cancer Research UK unit at St Thomas's Hospital, London, said: "Early research in this area suggested if you had a fighting spirit you would live longer.

"But these studies were very small. Since then we have done much more comprehensive work and looked at much larger studies of women.

"The latest research says that if you're feeling down and depressed you shouldn't panic as it won't affect your recovery or cause a relapse.

"One study looked at women patients who were profoundly depressed for three months or more.

"It was found that they were at no greater risk of cancer returning nor did it lessen their their chances of long term survival.

"I think this is really good news for women who no longer need to panic that if they feel very low it will bring the disease back."

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The BBC's Richard Black
"Survival isn't the only important thing"
See also:

29 Jul 02 | Health
20 Oct 99 | Health
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