By Judith Albright
How many times have you said, or heard someone say, “Cancer runs in my family so I’m likely
to get it too.” This means that because of your family history, you are expecting to have cancer
at some point in your life. Yet there are numerous people who have contracted cancer
without any family history of it at all, so there has to be more to it than that.
Nonetheless, the idea of genetic predisposition is promoted and reinforced by medical professionals who spout statistics and predictions about who is doomed to be next. This is particularly true of breast cancer. The result is an extreme fear that, even without any sign of cancer, women are driven to take dramatic action, such as having their breasts proactively removed.
Case in point is celebrity Angelina Jolie who wrote an article entitled, “My Medical Choice” in which she explained why she chose to have both healthy breasts removed. She explained that she has a BRCA1 gene mutation that is known to raise a woman’s risk of breast and ovarian cancers. She acted on the basis of this risk and her expectation. Regrettably, women who only have cancer in one breast are also making the decision to have their other healthy breast removed because of their belief that the cancer might spread to it.
Double mastectomies, known as a “contra lateral prophylactic mastectomy” or CPM, have proven to be more fear-based than anything. Research shows that CPM does basically nothing to increase a woman’s chances of survival. Yet, in spite of its lack of any solid scientific proof, the CPM procedure continues to grow in popularity. A study recently published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine suggests this trend can be laid at the feet of the cancer industry. Researchers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston found that many women simply have a false understanding of what CPM can do for them, likely a direct result of cancer professionals overstating the alleged benefits and understating the many risks involved.
There is also a misunderstanding about genetic testing and the reliability of the results.
Understanding Genetic Testing
A recent headline on Medicinenet.com read: “Misunderstood Gene Tests May Lead to Unnecessary Mastectomies.” This came from a new survey published online on April 12 of this year in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. It revealed that nearly half of breast cancer patients who chose to have a double mastectomy after genetic testing didn’t actually have the gene mutations known to raise the risk of additional cancers. Why is this? Apparently, it is happening because many women and their doctors are incorrectly interpreting the results of genetic testing. Robert Smith, vice president of cancer screening for the American Cancer Society, explains: “Although genetic testing is becoming increasingly important in cancer treatment, these results show that genetics experts have not been properly integrated into standard cancer-care teams.”
While genetic testing and cancer statistics cannot be ignored or dismissed out of hand, they are but a part of a much larger and complicated picture. Statistics are only a graphing of averages, which means a certain percentage falls above and a certain percentage falls below. One size does not fit all and what applies to one person may not apply to the next. We are all individuals whose lives are shaped by what we think, believe and do. And we cannot dismiss the mind/body connection and the role our beliefs and negative emotions play in the cancer equation.
The Mind/Body Connection
If we are to believe cell biologist Bruce Lipton, PhD (author of The Biology of Belief), what we think and believe about our bodies and overall health can play a significant role in preventing major diseases such as cancer. In 1982, Dr. Lipton began to study the principles of quantum physics and how they might increase his understanding of the cell’s information processing systems. From 1987 to 1992, his research at Stanford University’s School of Medicine revealed that, contrary to accepted belief, the environment controlled the behavior and physiology of the cell, not the genes, which could be turned off. This hypothesis flew in the face of the accepted scientific viewpoint that we are at the mercy of our genes. As a result, Bruce has been viciously attacked by the medical profession who considers his theory that we can use our minds to “turn off genetic markers” as quackery. Yet his pioneering work has opened the door a crack to shed more light on the power of the mind and the link between emotions, beliefs and genetics.
But Dr. Lipton is not alone in his theories. Among others, another well known supporter is Dawson Church, PhD, author of The Genie in Your Genes and founder of the National Institute for Integrative Healthcare. He is a health writer and researcher who has authored a number of books in the fields of health, psychology and spirituality.
I have met Dr. Lipton, participated in a project with Dr. Church, read both of their books, and believe in them and their work. Why? Because the mind/body connection is well documented and through my professional practice, I have had firsthand experience of the power of it for many years.
My own beliefs were challenged during an experience with my mother’s oncologist. While he did not encourage me to have a mastectomy, he tried to persuade (bully) me into taking Tamoxifin for at least five years as a preventative. Even though I had no signs of breast cancer, because of my family history he was adamant that I take this toxic drug because statistics indicated I was in the 95th percentile for risk. I politely informed him that regardless of statistics or his opinion, I fell into the 5th percentile. (Whoa, he didn’t like that!) He indignantly told me I was flat out crazy and, without following his sage advice, I was committing suicide.
It hasn’t happened yet, but I am neither naive nor stupid. Being fully aware of the cancer in my family history, I chose to concentrate on the mental work that would help me remain healthy and prevent cancer from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. If I ever am unfortunate enough to have cancer, at least it won’t be because I expected to have it and simply sat and waited for lightning to strike.
My point in reporting all this is to urge you to be your own health care advocate. If you have been diagnosed with cancer, become an informed patient. Read everything you can and explore your options. Before you agree to drastic treatments, seek another opinion. Doctors are not always right, and may or may not be up to date with the latest cancer research and treatment. Above all, don’t let fear cloud your judgment and make the decision for you.
If cancer has not yet appeared in your life and you are healthy, do the mental work that will help you stay that way. Read Dr. Lipton’s and Dr. Dawson’s books and decide for yourself if you think they are onto something. Find a PSYCH-K or EFT practitioner who can help you explore and change negative subconscious beliefs about getting cancer. Set an intention to remain healthy, guard your thoughts, and be careful about what you expect—you might get it.