Stress can contribute to cancer ‘bad luck’

We have been told that most cancers are caused by simple “bad luck” (your report, 2 January. But the mechanism of action of at least some of this bad luck may be quite easy to explain.

In my own case, and in those of many people I have worked with as a counsellor, life events and emotional history (even, would you believe it, sexual abuse in childhood) were felt by the patients themselves to be the root cause. Not, you understand, a one-off traumatic event, but more often, chronic stress and often depression caused by, for instance, marriage break-up, redundancy, or long-term care for a disabled child or an elderly relative with dementia, or indeed 
the persistent inability to find anyone who would listen to stories of childhood abuse.

How this might affect DNA is up to the scientists to explain, but it seems to me that through various mechanisms the immune system might well be compromised by chronic stress.

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The possible connection between depression and cancer has long featured in the psycho-oncology literature. So what do we do about it?

Not, I suggest, prescribe yet more drugs, but offer talking therapy for depression in the first instance, which if 
successful might well prevent subsequent cancer. However, it is also very important to offer skilled counselling to people who actually develop the disease and in whom depression persists, since without treating the root cause there is little hope of cure.

In my own case, in spite of my poor prognosis in 1986, I am still causing trouble at the age of 83. Yes, I did change my diet (at a time when orthodox medicine ignored diet as a contributory factor) but more importantly, sought counselling that I am certain helped me to turn the corner.

So it might be a double dose of bad luck: stressful life events followed by apparently random cancer.

However, looking at the causes of the stress might also help with curing the cancer.

Heather Goodare

Glengyle Terrace