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No. 67: Jan-Feb 1990

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Psychotherapy May Delay Cancer Deaths

In previous entries, we have reported that imaging, positive thinking, and other psychological stratagems seemed to have some effect on the progress of cancer in humans. Such positive results have generally been pooh-poohed by the medical establishment. In fact, the results recently reported by Stanford psychiatrist D. Spiegel were obtained during an attempt to show that psycho therapy had no effect whatsoever on cancer.

Thirteen years ago, Spiegel participated in a short-term program in which group therapy was given to 86 patients with advanced breast cancer. The goal was simply to make the patients feel better and "face their mortality." The result was that the patients became less anxious, less fearful, and more positive. They even learned to reduce their pain through self-hypnosis. That was the end of the program.

Recently, Spiegel, fed up with claims that positive thinking could help control cancer, tracked down the patients who had received psychotherapy earlier. He expected to find no difference between their fates and those of a control group that had not received psychotherapy. Not so! Those in the control group had lived an average of 19 more months, compared to an average 37 months for those getting the psychotherapy. Spiegel said, "I just couldn't believe it." "What I am flat out certain of is that something about being in groups helped these women live longer. But what it is, I don't know."

(Barinage, Marcia; "Can Psychotherapy Delay Cancer Deaths?" Science, 246:448, 1989.)

From Science Frontiers #67, JAN-FEB 1990. 1990-2000 William R. Corliss