Sir Peter Medawar, the great British scientist and Nobel prizewinner in immunology, was once asked what the best prescription for success against cancer might be. ‘A sanguine personality,’ he replied.
The relationship between cancer and personality has been commented on for centuries, but has come to the fore only in the last 20 years with our new understanding of the link between mental attitude and the immune system.
One of the gurus of this field of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is US psychologist Lydia Temoshok, who has identified a set of personality traits that, she claims, predisposes people to cancer. The two main ones are difficulty in expressing emotions, and a tendency towards helplessness/hopelessness. These add up to what she calls a ‘type C’ personality (Cancer Surv, 1987; 6: 545-67). Temoshok argues that these personality traits prevent people from ‘resolving stressors’, thus forcing the body into chronic stress-reaction mode which, in turn, overloads the immune system with stress chemicals, leaving an individual vulnerable to cancer (Ann NY Acad Sci, 2000; 917: 446-55).
Someone who has taken this concept even further is German cancer surgeon Dr Ryke-Geerd Hamer. He has studied over 20,000 cancer patients, and found that the vast majority of them had experienced some kind of unresolved emotional conflict just before getting the cancer. Hamer has now largely abandoned surgery in favour of psychotherapy, and claims to have successfully brought about dramatic turn-arounds in his cancer patients.