Breast cancer

What traumas may be behind breast cancer


The involvement of specific emotional factors in the development of breast cancer has been observed since ancient times. Galenus (2nd century AD) showed that women with a predominantly melancholic mood had a higher risk of breast cancer than those with a predominantly sanguine mood. Like Hippocrates, Galenus classified people into four temperamental typologies, based on the four humours present in the human body: the blood, which gives the sanguine temperament, the lymph - the phlegmatic temperament, the yellow bile - the choleric temperament and the black bile - the melancholic temperament. He believed that the right, temperate mixture (hence the term temperament) of these substances leads to a perfect state of health, hence to a perfect temperament, whereas the excess of one humour produces imperfect temperaments and their associated diseases. This view is an adaptation and renaming of the constitutional types described in the ancient traditional Indian medical system of Ayurveda 3000 years earlier than Hippocrates and Galenus. The melancholic temperament is the one that corresponds to the constitutional type in which the following predominates vata dosha, Blood temperament refers to the typology in which the blood constitutionally predominates, called in ayurveda rakta dhatu and described by Sushruta in the seminal work Sushruta Samhita.


Habit of repressing emotions learned from childhood leads to cancer

The link between certain emotional factors and breast cancer has been confirmed even today. An important study in this direction is that published in 1982 by a team led by Michael Wirshing (Wirsching, Sherlin, Hoffmann and Weber in Wirshing, M. et al.) in the journal Journal of Psychosomatic Research (Journal of Psychosomatic Studies) with the title Psychological identification of breast cancer patients before biopsy (Psychological identification of breast cancer patients before biopsy). The Psychosomatic Clinic of the University of Heidelberg, Germany has conducted similar research. Fifty-six women were interviewed prior to biopsy to determine whether or not they had breast cancer. The interviews lasted between 30 and 50 minutes and were recorded. The team was able to predict the correct breast cancer diagnosis before the biopsy was performed, taking into account the following 8 key characteristics:

  1. Unapproachable attitude or feeling overwhelmed during the interview.
  2. Repression of emotions accompanied by unexpected outbursts.
  3. Streamlining.
  4. Displays a lack of anxiety or low anxiety about surgery.
  5. False optimism - demonstrations of optimism.
  6. Over-autonomy and self-sufficiency, showing difficulty asking for or accepting help.
  7. Excessively altruistic behaviour, pseudo self-sacrifice.
  8. Conflict avoidance.

Generally speaking, regardless of the type of cancer, it has been found that an important role in the formation of the cancer-prone personality is played by what can be called parental figures. We have not called them parents because they do not necessarily have to be the natural parents but can be adoptive parents, carers, grandparents, uncles or aunts, family friends, teachers or any other person in whom the child invests a lot of emotional energy. People with cancer have had or have cold, indifferent, conformist parental figures who inhibit spontaneous expressions of the child's emotions.

Many contemporary studies also emphasize the role of depression following separation from a significant person or the loss of a significant goal (Meerloo, 1954; Kowal, 1955; Neumann, 1959; Greene, l966; Schmale & Iker, l966; Horne & Picard, 1979) This depression is most commonly manifested as hopelessness and despair and has proven useful as a predictor of malignancy, as shown in studies by Schmale & Iker, 1966 and Spence, 1979.

Le Shan was the one who studied most deeply the mechanism of life history in people diagnosed with cancer (Le Shan & Worthington, l956; Le Shan & Reznikoff, 1960; Le Shan, l966) following his experience with 500 cancer patients. He shows that in the first 7 years of life one of the essential roles of parents and those in the child's immediate environment is to provide models of behaviour, attitudes to the world and to life, including models of social relationships. In cancer patients, the correct appropriation of positive role models has been affected by a traumatic event such as the disappearance of a parent (through death or separation) or another close person to whom the child was emotionally very attached. From this experience the child has learned that emotional involvement only brings pain and suffering and that withdrawal can protect them. Often these states are associated with blame, self-condemnation and a sense of failure. Kirkeggaard called this "despair of being yourself". In order to be accepted (and thus to make it easier for him to accept himself) he becomes a person whom others see as very good, decent, well-behaved, in his place, as he doesn't bother anyone, doesn't defend his point of view, doesn't voice his grievances. However, in the course of her life she is given opportunities to establish emotional relationships and the teenager or young adult sees this as a chance to end the feeling of loneliness she feels. After a lot of trial and error, they manage to get involved in a relationship. The constant feelings of loneliness, helplessness, emptiness and failure disappear and he finds a new meaning in life. It could be a loving relationship, it could be work or raising a child. He will then be able to lead a meaningful existence as a husband or wife, as a mother or father, as a good employee. But the problem remains. He is unable to recognise his own needs, even though when it comes to the cause he supports, he becomes the most ardent fighter. All until the moment the role he is so fervently involved in (and it is the only aspect in which he behaves this way) is taken away from him: either he retires, the children grow up and leave to start their own family, or the spouse disappears. The immediate reaction is that he feels that everything has collapsed, that the meaning of his life has disappeared, and he is overcome by the same feeling of emptiness, of powerlessness, of failure. The old thought that there is something wrong with him, something that makes him unacceptable to others reappears, seemingly even more intensely, and it is not long before the first symptoms of cancer appear (LeShan, 1966). According to LeShan, cancer is nothing more than an escape from a life in a world considered hostile, unwelcoming, and a source of unfulfilment and unhappiness.

Bahnson started from his own clinical experience (Bahnson, 1967, 1969, 1971) and established a similar picture. During childhood, cancer patients experienced frequent disappointment, loss, despair in their relationship with their parents which was characterised by dependency, conflict and dissatisfaction, especially with their mother. As adolescents, separation from parents was painful and perceived as a major deprivation against which they struggled, seeking to compensate by establishing an emotional relationship with another person or by investing energy in substitutes such as work or creation. This is often difficult to achieve as they are distrustful and perceive the world as hostile to them. If, however, a relationship so carefully established falls apart, the old despair of the helpless child they once were resurfaces forcing them once again to face an environment perceived as hostile, unable to accept them. Added to this is the loneliness, and the conviction that they cannot receive help or warmth from others. All attempts to maintain a relationship with an intolerant reality that cannot offer them the contentment and acceptance they need then seem meaningless.

Also Bahnson and his collaborators administered a questionnaire on the parent-child relationship and showed that cancer patients felt (perceived) that their parents were neglectful and cold, less loving, less protective and knew how to provide less emotional gratification (Bahnson, 1980, p. 978). He also, in 1979, explains the emergence of denial and withholding of emotions - cancer patients were born into centrifugal families, in which mutual isolation and distance between members is very great. The child cannot share his emotions with his parents, but in order to maintain his balance he learns to use these defence mechanisms. The emphasis in this type of family is therefore not on closeness, affiliation, success and socialisation but on containment, restraint and control. Cancer emerges in Bahnson's view, which only complements Le Shan's theory, as a failed survival strategy, a dysfunctional way of coping with a primarily internal reality that overwhelms the ability to adapt and integrate.

Kissen's research group (1946, 1966) was among the first to carry out several studies on ego defence mechanisms in cancer patients, revealing their inability to express their emotions freely and adequately, especially anger, aggression, hostility, which end up being masked by a benevolent facade for fear of rejection. Numerous other studies have been conducted by Tarlau & Smalheiser, 1951; Blumberg, West & Ellis, 1954, Reznikoff, 1955; Schonfield, 1975 and Bahnson, 1966, 1969. The same aspects also influence the rate of proliferation of cancer cells cf. Blumberg, West & Ellis, 1954; Klopfer, 1954, West, 1954; Bahnson & Bahnson, 1964; Greer & Morris, 1975; Derogatis, Abeloff & Melisaratos, 1978; Rogentine et al., 1979.

These results were confirmed by Thomas (Thomas & Duszynski, 1974: Thomas, Duszynski & Shaffer. 1979) who looking for predictors of suicide, mental illness, malignant tumours, hypertension and coronary heart disease by conducting prospective studies showed that cancer patients had the lowest scores for a close relationship with their parents.

A 1979 Wyre study of women with breast cancer on their perceptions of their mothers shows that they see their mothers as incapable or unprepared to take on the maternal role.

Booth studied the nature of the emotional object for patients diagnosed with cancer compared to those diagnosed with tuberculosis. The conclusion was that cancer patients are characterized by a need to have control over the emotional object. They struggle to have control over the emotional object but it is precisely this that makes them dependent on the object, thus a marked rigidity and inability to replace lost emotional objects appears (Booth, 1969).

Extending these conclusions to the spiritual dimension, it can be said that a person who becomes ill with cancer forgets or no longer knows what the purpose of life is, becomes attached to ephemeral aspects that he considers the centre of his existence, does not love authentically but gives only to gain the acceptance of others, and these are taken from him precisely to make him return to the search for God.


Expressing emotions is the basis for preventing and treating any form of cancer

Numerous studies have shown that survival is higher for patients who learn to express their emotions and who have strong social and emotional support. These findings have formed the basis for the construction of numerous group psychotherapeutic intervention systems.

In research conducted in the 1990s by Fawzy of the Neuropsychiatric Institute, UCLA School of Medicine, the immunological response of 61 cancer patients was analysed over 6 months. The patients were divided into 2 groups - the study group who were involved in a group psychological support program for 6 weeks and the control group. Although no differences were observed after 6 weeks, they were evident after 6 months. In the study group, there was a reduction in stress, a greater conscious use of coping strategies, a significant increase in granular lymphocytes, a significant increase in the percentage of natural killer (NK) T lymphocytes, an increase in the cytotoxic activity of killer (K) T lymphocytes. Thus, psychotherapy not only makes the patients feel that they are coping better with the disease but even stimulates immunological responses.

Speigel (Stanford and Berkeley Universities in California) in 1989 conducted a similar study on women with breast cancer. The 86 patients were divided into 2 groups, both underwent the usual cancer treatment but for 1 year the study group attended weekly psychotherapy and self-suggestion sessions to better cope with the pain. Differences between the two groups in survival rates emerged after 8 months. The survival rate averaged 3 years in the experimental group and 1.5 years in the control group, a significant difference. It should be added here that in the study group, during this period anxiety and depression decreased significantly and pain resistance also increased.

Although researchers were initially very sceptical about the beneficial effects of visualisation, meditation, creative imagination techniques or self-suggestive relaxation, they were soon forced to recognise their usefulness not only for increasing survival time (which seems to have long been their only concern) but also for improving quality of life and reducing psychological distress. Improved communication with doctors, family and other patients, pain control and effective management of fear of death or pain have become very important elements in such psychotherapeutic systems.

But one thing remained unexplained - why did the percentage of survivors become significant only 1 year after the end of psychotherapy? One explanation could be the cumulative effect of the passage of time, which allows new structures to be experienced and transformations to be internalised.

A third study that proves significant in demonstrating the effectiveness of psychotherapy is that of Hans J Eysenck and R Grossarth-Maticek (University of London, 1992). What is new in this study is a more careful selection of the population studied, which allowed differentiation according to age, sex, tobacco consumption, cholesterol level, blood pressure and personality type (A or C). This system guarantees greater accuracy of the data obtained. The results demonstrated the beneficial effects of group or individual psychotherapy on significantly increasing survival rate and duration. After 7 years, of the 245 patients in the experimental group, 18 died (of cancer) compared to 111 in the control group with the same number of patients. The study also showed that bibliotherapy (learning therapy from a text) had beneficial effects. In terms of the effect of behavioural psychotherapy on the survival of terminal cancer patients, survival time averaged 5 years for the experimental group and only 3 years for the control group. A comparison was made between the effects of behavioural psychotherapy and chemotherapy on cancer. It was observed that although chemotherapy alone increased survival by 2.8 months and psychotherapy alone by 3.64 months (the sum of the two should have resulted in an increase of 6.44 months), the sum of the two resulted in an increase in survival of 22.4 months, which once again demonstrates the complexity of the relationship between the psychological and the physical. It was also observed that the number of lymphocytes increased in patients who had undergone psychotherapy not only during the period of psychotherapy but also long afterwards, demonstrating the profound action on the immune system.

The conclusion that emerges is that psychotherapy has a clear influence even on the immune system, contributing not only to increasing survival time, but also bringing profound transformations with long-lasting beneficial effects. At the same time, however, it should be noted that psychological support alone does not lead to improvement and healing, but is an integral part of a comprehensive treatment process. So far we have not found any studies that have looked at the role of these techniques in curing cancer, which speaks volumes about the current view of cancer as an incurable, fatal disease. Oreste Spechiani, who wrote in a book with the same title : "let those who allow themselves to be overwhelmed by despair, anxiety and fear die of cancer... cancer is what you live with".


What is important for breast cancer patients to express

A great advance towards a more precise understanding of the emotions that can cause any cancer in general and breast cancer in particular has been made by the German physician Rike-Geerd Hamer in his system called New German Medicine, which details the psychosomatic causes of diseases of all the body's systems and organs. In this framework, particularly important practical aspects are presented which can help us greatly to understand under what conditions breast cancer occurs. In order to prevent or treat this type of cancer, it is important for the patient to express exactly those types of emotions which are at the root of the formation of this particular type of tumour.


The two phases of psychosomatic diseases

First of all it is necessary to always keep in mind that any psychosomatic condition including cancer is triggered by a stressful event that is for us a real emotional shock of proportions and that first of all surprises us a lot. It is bound to be a totally unexpected event for us. Secondly, from our subjective perspective it is something dramatic, serious and for which we have no solution. Often we are even left with the fear that something like this could happen again in the future.

From the moment we go through such an experience, the psychosomatic condition begins and will continue to develop in two phases. The first phase lasts as long as the problem remains unresolved and can be called the active conflict phase. The second phase starts from the moment we have found a solution to that problem and is a period of recovery in which inflammation specifically occurs in the tissues that were damaged during the active conflict. In this phase, the recovery of tissues and organs that have been damaged is done with the help of micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi or viruses that multiply in that organ entering the healing phase. This multiplication is wrongly interpreted as infection. It is in fact a normal healing phase which can be brutally interrupted by a treatment which excessively activates the sympathetic nervous system, i.e. some antibiotics, analgesics or chemotherapy.


The two types of breast tissue and the emotions they react to

The breast is made up of two main types of tissue that react differently, these being the mammary glandular tissue made up of cells that produce breast milk and the epithelial tissue from which the ducts of the mammary glands are formed. Each of these two tissue types undergoes changes during the course of the disease in relation to their specific biological roles.

Surprising as it may seem at first glance, the cancer that we have become accustomed to considering as a serious condition, a catastrophic genetic defect or an enemy to be fought and eliminated by any means, even aggressively, is in fact the best biological solution that the body has found at that moment and has adopted with the very clear purpose of resolving the major inner conflict we go through at the time of an emotional shock.

In this vein, since the role of the mammary gland tissue is to produce breast milk for the purpose of nourishing and sustaining the life of the baby, if the woman subsequently experiences a surprising, dramatic and shocking event for her in which someone very dear to her needs her support and she finds that she fails for various reasons to provide adequate support, the biological solution that the body finds to help her cope with this particularly stressful and difficult situation for her is to grow and multiply the mammary glands. In this way she would be able to produce more breast milk in order to be able to adequately support the one who is going through major difficulties at that moment and needs her help. If a breast ultrasound scan is carried out at this time, it reveals the presence of breast nodules formed from new, growing and developing glandular cells which on biopsy are considered to be breast adenocarcinoma.

When the situation somehow resolves and no further support is needed from that woman, the glandular structures that have previously multiplied are no longer needed and a process of self-destruction begins with the help of mycobacteria. During the process of autolysis and self-destruction the tissue in question is inflamed, painful and sheds infected cellular debris until it is completely removed and resorbed. Medically speaking, at this stage it is diagnosed as breast adenocarcinoma with areas of necrosis. If there is no mycobacterium in the woman's body due to anti-tuberculosis vaccination or due to repeated use of antibiotic treatments in the past, the extra breast tissue will not be able to be completely removed. It will go through a phase of inflammation in the body's effort to remove it, it will be painful, it will shed secretions but it will not become infected and in the end it will heal as a harmless breast cyst. Since the cell proliferation process of the mammary gland has ceased, the biopsy will show only a benign breast cyst.

On the other hand, the epithelial tissue from which the mammary glands are formed will react for other reasons because it has a different biological role. The mammary ducts, also called milk ducts, carry the breast milk produced by the mammary gland to the nipple for the baby to suck. However, if the baby is unable to suck for various reasons, most often because it has been separated from its mother, the biological solution that the body finds is to dilate these milk ducts in order to transport the milk more efficiently and in greater quantity. For this reason, throughout the separation from the baby the ducts will dilate more and more by forming small ulcerations in the walls of the ducts in order to increase the diameter of these fine ducts as much as possible. When the situation resolves and the baby returns to the breast, the ducts no longer need to be so dilated and the previously formed ulcers begin to heal, but this process is accompanied by local inflammation. Due to this inflammation in the duct wall, some ducts may become temporarily blocked and the milk may form a build-up up upstream which, due to the pressure on the surrounding areas, sometimes causes intense pain. In this way the breasts become enlarged, swollen and painful. A breast ultrasound scan carried out at such a time reveals dilated ducts, with thickened walls in places, and if a biopsy is taken from the areas with thicker walls, the diagnosis may be ductal carcinoma.

At the end of healing the ducts generally return to normal size or remain slightly dilated and the biopsy shows normal ductal tissue without carcinoma.

In conclusion, the emotional reaction that is necessary to be expressed by a woman going through breast adenocarcinoma is that of worry for a loved one, of fear that she cannot support or nourish them well enough. In the case of breast ducts, however, the emotion that needs to be expressed is very different. It is the painful separation from the one you love and nurture. Unfortunately, this conflict is very common and can occur at any ugly quarrel with the loved one, whether it is a man you love, a child, a friend, a neighbour, but in general it is a person you love and who up to that moment of conflict you have supported, and the conflict in question has created a sudden separation between the woman and the loved one, even if this separation or rupture is only in the soul of the woman and is not always a physical separation itself.

Beyond expressing these painful emotions, however, it is necessary for the woman to find viable solutions to these conflicts. If the situation is partially resolved but the woman remains with a more or less hidden fear in the depths of her soul that something like this could happen again in the future, the changes in the breast tissues will continue and the multiplication of the mammary glands or the dilation of the mammary ducts will only stop completely when she finds a complete and definitive solution to this type of conflict. Less important is the way she will solve this type of problem. What really matters is that the solution found is truly a complete resolution in her case.


The emotional solution is the basis of bodily healing

From the moment a woman has succeeded in resolving definitively, completely and profoundly the existential problem that was at the root of the appearance and development of breast adenocarcinoma or ductal carcinoma, the path to bodily healing is open. Of course, the sooner the right solution is found, the greater the chances of a complete cure. If time has gone against her and the size of the tumour is already too large, it is possible that the body as a whole will fail and survival will be endangered even though the conflict has been resolved but the solution has been found too late.

That is why it is very important to make every effort as soon as possible to express as harmoniously as possible the emotions that cause them and to find and apply appropriate solutions.