Positive thinking does not improve breast cancer survival

Monday 2 June, 2008

The state of mind of women with breast cancer has no influence on their chance of having a recurrence or survival, according to an Australian study presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology Meeting in Chicago this week.

This research, led by The Cancer Council Victoria, Colebatch Clinical Research Fellow, and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre Medical Oncologist, Associate Professor of Medicine, Kelly-Anne Phillips MB;BS, MD, FRACP, contradicts widespread belief in the power of positive thinking.

The research paper "Psychosocial Factors and Survival of Young Women with Breast Cancer" found no correlation to a breast cancer patient's mental wellbeing and their ultimate chances of avoiding recurrence and surviving the disease.

"A diagnosis of breast cancer is frequently associated with psychological distress and many patients believe that their psychosocial response affects their prognosis," Associate Professor Kelly-Anne Phillips said.

"Previous research has produced conflicting results so the question of whether psychosocial factors can improve breast cancer survival was an important one to answer.

"These findings provide the strongest evidence to date that while there can be lots of emotional and social benefits of thinking positively including improving quality-of-life, a positive frame of mind does not have a significant effect on breast cancer recurrence or survival."

A population-based sample of more than 700 Australian women from the Australian Breast Cancer Family Study was followed-up over a period of 8 years for this study. Levels of depression and anxiety, coping style and social support were assessed.
Associate Professor Phillips said these findings really lift the burden of responsibility for women whose breast cancer does in fact return.

"Many women blame themselves for not having had a positive enough attitude," she said. "We can now tell them that it would not have changed their outcome."

Women in this research were participants in the Australian Breast Cancer Family Study, a population-based case-control-family study of the genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors associated with breast cancer established by Professor John Hopper from the University of Melbourne School of Population Health. Participants had been diagnosed with non-metastatic breast cancer before the age of 60 and had no previous history of invasive cancer.

The Cancer Council Victoria awarded the inaugural Colebatch Clinical Research Fellowship to Associate Professor Kelly-Anne Phillips at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. This fellowship was established in the memory of Dr John Colebatch (1909-2005). Dr Colebatch pioneered work in the field of paediatric haematology and clinical trial practice in Australia.

The Cancer Council Victoria supports cancer researchers working in Victorian universities, hospitals and medical research institutes and in 2007 over $3.9 million was provided to support this external research.