A cancer diagnosis may be the most traumatic thing that can befall a patient within the contemporary medical system; that is, beyond the conventional cancer treatments themselves, many of which have life-threatening and even lethal side effects.
New research now indicates that a cancer diagnosis may be as fatal as the cancer itself, dramatically increasing the risk of suicide and heart-related death in the week following diagnosis.
Published in the New England Journal of Medicine this month, researchers looked at data on more than 6 million Swedes aged 30 and older between 1991-2006 using the country’s health registries in order to determine how the psychological toll of cancer diagnosis impacts the risk for death. After analyzing over 500,000 people who were diagnosed with cancer during that period, the risk of suicide was found to be 12 times higher and the risk of heart-related death 6 times higher during the first week following diagnosis versus those who were cancer free.
Sometimes called the nocebo effect (In contradistinction to the placebo effect), a doctor’s negative attitudes and beliefs surrounding a diagnosis may infect the patient with despair and hopelessness, two psychospiritual states at the very root of of dis-ease. A more ancient example of this is known as “bone-pointing,” which involved a shaman pointing a bone at someone whose death was said to be imminent from supernatural causes, resulting in that person dying through the power of suggestion (i.e. emotionally-induced trauma).