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No. 33: May-Jun 1984

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Imaging Cancer Away

"Anna had been given three months to live. The malignant tumor, growing rapidly at the back of her neck, had virtually crippled her. Her upper body was hunched over, her head was forced painfully to one side, and her right arm was contracted and paralyzed. The best thing she could do, said her doctor, was to go home and make arrangements for the future of her young son and daughter."

Instead Anna learned how to "image." She conceived the tumor to be a dragon on her back and her white blood cells as knights attacking the dragon with swords. A year later, the tumor had shrunk. Later, it disappeared complete-ly. Can "imaging" work? Obviously, this is a very controversial question.

Admittedly, little real scientific research has been done on imaging per se -- it is a bit too radical a concept. But a few scientists are beginning to chart the chemistry and information flow in the mind-body relationship. For example, the death of a spouse has long been associated with the increased mortality of the surviving spouse. Clinical studies of bereaved spouses reveal fewer circulating lymphocytes, which help the body fight disease, and significantly higher levels of cortisol, a substance that suppresses the immune system's response to disease.

Although it is very early in the game, there are verifiable correlations between state-of-mind and body chemistry. Further, other researchers have found that there are sympathetic nerve terminals in such organs as the spleen and lymph nodes, both of which play important parts in defending the body. Imaging just might send the right signals through these terminals, while depression might tend to shut the defense system down.

(Hammer, Signe; "The Mind as Healer," Science Digest, 92:47, 1984.)

Comment. Imaging is only the latest psychological device humans have tried in fighting disease and promoting health. History is full of such ploys.

From Science Frontiers #33, MAY-JUN 1984. 1984-2000 William R. Corliss