Happy Talk, Positive Thinking and Cancer
A just released study of 1,093 patients treated for head and neck cancer showed that their state of mind had no influence on their outcomes. Or to put it simply, having a positive attitude, had no impact on survival.
In reporting the study, WebMD quoted Dr. Jimmie Holland from Sloan-Kettering, who coined the phrase "the tyranny of positive thinking." Commenting on the study, Dr. Holland said, "The idea that we can control illness and death with our minds appeals to our deepest yearnings, but it just isn't so. It is so sad that cancer patients are made to believe that if they aren't doing well it is somehow their own fault because they aren't positive enough."
Harsh words, but that pretty much says it all -- a definitive study that proves that what you think does not matter when it comes to cancer.
So what objection could I possibly have what WebMD calls "one of the largest and most rigorously designed investigations ever to examine the issue?"
Well, how about:
- The patients in the study received standard medical treatment
- Standard medical treatment, for the most part, means chemo and radiation
- Chemotherapy and radiation depress the immune system
- The benefit of positive thoughts are that they boost your immune system. Negative thoughts conversely depress it. Bottom line: your thoughts have a direct effect on your immune system -- all things being equal.
But all things were not equal in this magnificent study. If you’re being treated with chemotherapy or radiation, then what you think doesn’t matter very much since your immune system is trashed no matter what you think. Once you acknowledge that fact, the results of the study are essentially a forgone conclusion. You don’t need to conduct "one of the largest and most rigorously designed investigations ever" to reaffirm that medical treatments trash your immune system beyond your ability to think your way out of it.
On the other hand, if you tested the effect of positive thinking in combination with either alternative health protocols that are immuno-supportive -- or even one of the newer medical immuno-therapies that are designed to work with the immune system, that would indeed be a far more useful study.