Cancer: How To Overcome The Fear Factor

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“Fear drives patients to make hasty and often poor treatment decisions,” says Bill Sardi, author of the new book You Don’t Have To Be Afraid of Cancer Anymore.

The fear of cancer largely goes unmentioned in modern medicine. While fear of cancer is as real as cancer itself, there are few scientific studies that even address fear.

Fear emanates from uncertainty, lack of control and lack of information, says health journalist Bill Sardi. “Cancer patients need a game plan, preferably before their doctor diagnoses cancer. They need to know what causes cancer (a topic that is rarely addressed), and they need to know the typical overall survival for their stage of cancer, not just the treatment-related survival. This is because treatment can lead to mortal consequences that must be considered in survival data evaluated by the patient,” he says.

Recently a real-time survey of males who were just diagnosed with prostate cancer was conducted. While most of these men had a form of prostate cancer that will not threaten their life, and treatment would likely be ineffective or even spread cancer cells to other organs in their body, fear overcame these men. With sweat on their brows and tight-clenched knuckles, they demanded immediate treatment.

Studies show men who delay treatment decisions and investigate all their options are far less likely to undergo treatment, says Sardi. Often there is no rush to make decisions about treatment says Sardi, who quotes a study that showed survival was far better among patients whose cancer diagnosis and treatment was delayed by a few months.

Generally, cancer patients feel vulnerable because most of the time doctors are doing all the work and the patient participates passively, taking pain pills or anti-nausea/diarrheal medication as their only involvement.

Frequently doctors make no recommendations to alter the diet, limit sugar or iron intake that are growth factors for cancer, or even to stop smoking. In one study, only 12 of the 50 cancer patients received a recommendation from their doctor that they quit smoking or change their diet. This was striking given the fact that 68% of these patients had dietary-related cancer (colon). [Preventive Medicine 25: 162-69, 1996] Yet surprisingly, the National Cancer Institute’s recommendation to consume 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day has been a failure. It should not be relied upon for prevention or treatment.

Many patients can avoid being blindsided by a cancer diagnosis, says Sardi. “They should anticipate such a diagnosis if they are a smoker, and in particular if they are of advanced age. Despite prevalent concerns over environmental carcinogens, even tobacco and alcohol use, advanced age is the most prominent factor involved in the onset of cancer. The prevalence of cancer rises greatly after age 50.”

It’s striking to realize that cancer patients often elect to undergo treatment their own doctors would refuse. The accompanying chart shows that a much smaller number of health professionals would elect to undergo mild chemotherapy than their patients.

Doctor, Would You Take Your Own Medicine?

Attitudes Toward Mild Chemotherapy

(Source: Chest 109: 80S, 1996)

                With 1% cure rate | With 3 month survival increase | With symptom relief

  • Cancer nurses                     39%         25%         26%
  • General practitioners            44%         27%         21%
  • Radiation oncologists         27%         13%         2%
  • Medical oncologists             52%         45%         12%
  • Patients                                 67%         53%         59%

With advanced age being the primary risk factor for cancer, the best thing that senior adults can do is reinvigorate their immune system and reduce iron stores that fuel the growth of cancer cells, says Sardi.

To learn more about overcoming the fear of cancer, you are invited to read the new book ''You Don’t Have To Be Afraid Of Cancer Anymore'' at .    


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