For years, some experts have tried to say there’s a cancer personality type – that some people are more susceptible to cancer based on their personality characteristics. Now, a recent study lays to rest the idea of a cancer-prone personality.
According to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, there is no cancer personality type – and a person’s outlook on life or character traits doesn’t affect their risk of getting cancer – or their chances of survival.
Cancer and Personality: The Myth of the Cancer-Prone Personality
The idea that cancer risk is associated with personality type has been entertained for centuries. Forty or fifty years ago, some studies showed an association between cancer and personality type, but these studies have since been criticized.
A cancer-prone personality has been described as more introverted with difficultly expressing emotions. Other studies suggest that people more susceptible to cancer are anxious and depressed and tend to put the needs of others before their own – creating internal stress.
Some experts argue that there’s a physiological basis for the cancer-prone personality. Chronic stress elevates levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, which would negatively affect the immune system – the body’s defense against cancer.
Some have also argued that some personality types have greater cancer survival because of their more upbeat and optimistic attitude. This puts a burden on the patient and patient’s family, who feel that the cancer-stricken individual is decreasing his or her chance of survival by being depressed or despondent.
The Myth of the Cancer Personality Type Dispelled
This most recent study is one of the largest of its kind, involving almost 60,000 individuals in Finland and Sweden. These participants were followed for thirty years after completing extensive personality questionnaires. When the results were analyzed, researchers found no association between cancer and personality type – neither in terms of cancer incidence or cancer survival.
The only association they found was a weak one between extraversion and neuroticism and the risk of lung cancer. They believe this can be explained by the fact that people with lung cancer were more likely to have socialized and smoked more cigarettes.
The bottom line? There isn’t a cancer-prone personality and being pessimistic doesn’t seem to shorten survival after a cancer diagnosis. Cancer patients don’t have to feel guilty for not having the “fighting spirit” because it may not affect their survival after all.
Medscape.com website. “Personality Does Not Influence Cancer; Hypothesis Should Be Retired”