Emotional trauma can cause cancer

This falls into the category of something that I’m sure of right down to my new bone marrow.

A new study released today doesn’t lead with this heading but when I read the heading, this is what occurred to me.

Esme Fuller-Thomson, PhD, and Sarah Brennenstuhl, MSW, of the University of Toronto have drawn a link between physical abuse as a child and increased incidence of cancer. Physical abuse is accompanied directly with emotional trauma and I would imagine that not unlike a cancer diagnosis, this emotional trauma likely lingers long after the physical body has recovered, if it recovers.

This is listed as the second study of its kind and what I take from it, even in the early days of this path of investigation, is a message that speaks to me so strongly. It’s all connected, just like we are all connected. If we treat only one part of the problem, we’re not effectively treating the problem, similarly if we’re only or primarily looking for a small part of the potential cause we’re not likely to find the holistic answer that will provide holistic insight. Holistic insight is one of those things like sustainability, that gets me going.

What do I mean by holistic insight? It’s a solution that takes into account all elements of the issue. I submit that the emotional side of cancer and all disease–and life, for that matter–has been an afterthought on the research agenda. Have we really established the emotional side of cancer–prior to, during, and after diagnosis and treatment–as a priority? I’m not sure we have.

I was recently at a meeting focusing on young adults with cancer and research. The docs–well-meaning, bless them–recited this phrase that I’ve heard often: “The best way to improve survivorship is to improve survival.” Got a nice ring to it, hey? But what does that mean?

I ask in an extreme example; is this a “win” at all costs approach? As long as we’re alive, we’re winning? No, for sure not. How about a little more “it’s my life, don’t forget the quality” in the research discussions?

At this same meeting I made the suggestion that research on young adults and cancer should be 75 per cent psychosocial, 25 per cent biological. Given that I was the only survivor in the room of 18 or so, you can imagine there was no consensus reached on my suggestion.

And then we have today’s study, which is asking the quality of life question prior to diagnosis as a potential cause of the diagnosis. Sometimes this is almost too far ahead for me to see when I reflect on the focus of the majority of cancer research spending. (For a breakdown of research spending in Canada check out the Cancer Advocacy Coalition of Canada’s Report Cards)

I see opportunity, but we have a long way to go to reach the balanced approach that will provide those holistic insights that will really have a massive impact. Getting studies like the one released today out to the public is a great start, not just for the specific issues addressed in the study but for the whole concept of researching emotional trauma and cancer. Next time I’m at a research meeting for young adults, count on me throwing out that 75 per cent again.

Always…
Live life. Love life.

Geoff

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