Helplessness feeds Cancer?
This experiment measured precisely how helplessness generated by experimental manipulation modified the growth and spread of cancer in rats.
Rats were grafted with an exact quantity of cancer cells known to induce a fatal tumour in 50% of them. The rats were divided into 3 groups. The first group (control group) the animals were injected with the graft, but not manipulated in any other way. In the second group, the rats were given small random electric shocks which they had no control over. The third group were given the same random electric shocks but were provided with a lever that they quickly learned to press to avoid getting ‘extra' shocks.
The results showed that one month after the graft, 54% of the control rats (group 1) had successfully rejected the tumour. The rats subjected to shocks with no means of escape(group 2) had become despondent. They didn't fight against intrusions into their cage, they lost their appetite for food and sexual partners. Just 23% managed to overcome their cancers.
The most interesting group was the third group, who despite being subjected to the intense stress of the same number of frequent electric shocks, and having learned they could avoid receiving extra shocks by pressing a lever, these rats did not become despondent. They remained feisty when intruded upon, ate well and mated frequently. Of that group, 63% successfully rejected the tumour, many more than the rats left alone.
It appears the ‘helplessness' was capable of accelerating the tumours spread, not the shocks themselves.
The lesson of this study is very important: It isn't stress itself - the ‘electric shocks' life inevitably gives - that promotes cancer development; it is the persistent perception of helplessness the individual has that affects the body's reaction to the disease.
I feel there may be such a thing as a ‘good stress', one that challenges us to reach for our inner resources, and that may stimulate our natural defences to do their work more effectively.
I can understand how many of you (me included) may feel we just don't have a lever (like the rats in group 3) that would allow us to regain some semblance of control, even if that control is just over ourselves and not over the situation itself. Regaining some control is vital in our fight against cancer
*I've taken extracts from ‘Anticancer - a new way of life' by David Servan Schreiber, to compile this story. Paul.