Personality and Breast Cancer
I have written in the past about the rumored (NOT true) influence of mood or personality or anger management or stress on development or progression of cancer. It keeps coming up in my office as women worry about the possible impact of their psyche on their cancer health. The bottom line is this: It does not matter how crabby or negative or stressed you are. Of course, if you are feeling better, your quality of life will be higher and your days will be improved. It will not matter one iota, however, to any cancer cells or the effectiveness of treatments you are receiving. Remember this when people try to persuade you of the importance of positive thinking.
For more than thirty years in my clinical practice, I have been trying to persuade women that there is no link or association between their personality and their diagnosis of breast cancer. In the 1980s, there was some research that suggested the possibility of a "cancer-prone personality"; this was felt to be someone who was stoic and had difficulty expressing emotions, especially anger. I have always felt this was one more way to "blame the victim" and to enable healthy people to distance themselves from the possibility of cancer (e.g. "I can't get cancer because I am really good at expressing my feelings.")
We are all always looking for reasons why this happened, and the suggestion that personality type might make a difference is an easy answer. It is also a wrong answer. If you know other women who have had a breast cancer diagnosis, you know that this is an equal opportunity illness. We come in every possible variety, and our personalities and outlooks are equally varied.
A recently published article in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute reports a study led by Eveline Bleiker of the Netherlands Cancer Institute and Antoni can Leewenhock Hospital in Amsterdam. Dr. Bleiker and her colleagues reported that women who were depressed, anxious, or generally "unemotional" were no more likely to get breast cancer than anyone else. The report clearly states that: "Women with breast cancer should not worry that their character might have contributed to the development of their disease."
This is good news for us all. If we can all, patients, clinicians, and researches, worry less about the impact of stress, mood, personality, or other unimportant variables, more time can be spent on truly exploring the causes and treatments of breast cancer.