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Mind-Body Healing: Reducing Stress and the Recurrence of Cancer

Posted Aug 24 2008 9:51pm
Surgery is scary. Just the thought of losing control and having someone cut into my body scares the ______ out of me! I can't imagine what it would be like for those brave souls who need a cancerous tumor removed. I give them a lot of credit in doing what they need to in order to overcome their disease.

I have my own opinions about surgery. I have written about surgery before ( see my other entry about surgery ). I think the effects of surgery on the body are grossly underestimated. I have seen this time and time again. Usually someone I know has a procedure done and then is released a short time later with the idea that they will heal in a short amount of time. In reality the person struggles for a much longer time before they feel better.

Healing from surgery encompasses both the body and the mind. Yes body tissues can heal pretty fast but getting over the stress of surgery and dealing with a major disease can be quite a challenge.

A new study from Aviv University's Department of Psychology led by Professor Shamgar Ben-Eliyahu examined the effects of surgery-related stress on the body. The physical aspects of surgery have a negative effect on the immune system but what about the psychological effects?

According to the professor it is the chemicals released by the body in response to fear that suppress the immune system. When we experience fear our bodies release a host of hormones such as norepinephrine and epinephrine (adrenaline). These hormones work to get us ready to deal with a threat and they can also inhibit our immune systems.

This can be a big problem, especially in the time directly following surgery. This is when the body needs to overcome the physical stress of the surgical assault on the tissues. It is also when the body needs to finish the job of the surgeon by killing off what is left of a cancerous tumor. It doesn't help if the immune system is compromised by the effects of psychological fear.

Inhibiting the stress hormones may go a long way in reducing the recurrence of cancer after surgery. There is hope from the field of mind-body medicine called psychoneuroimmunology. Stress-reducing techniques have been shown to improve immune function.

Perhaps mind-body healing can become a part of an overall healing program (as I believe it should as stated in my book). In the future patients may not only have surgical consults but may also work with practitioners employing mind-body techniques to help to boost the immune system.


Brain, Behaviour, and Immunity (2007)
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