What role do psychological and social factors play in the development of cancer? What appears to be the consensus in the medical community? What role do psychological and social factors play in...
What role do psychological and social factors play in the development of cancer? What appears to be the consensus in the medical community?
What role do psychological and social factors play in the treatment of cancer? What appears to be the consensus in the medical community?
Current evidence does not support the hypothesis that a direct, causal link between certain psychological factors and risk of cancer development exists. The psychological factors frequently studied were stress, because of its effects on the body’s endocrine system and cortisol production in particular, depression, introversion vs. extroversion, and neuroticism. While level of stress, the strength of an individual’s coping mechanisms, and presence of external supports (family, friends, and so on) certainly do play a role in how an individual copes with the diagnosis of cancer and can impact the success of their treatment to an extent, again, there is insufficient evidence to suggest that stress alone causes cancer.
On the other hand, there is evidence to support that some social factors—lifestyle choices and hazardous work conditions, particularly—have a direct, causal link to cancer. Take smoking or alcohol abuse, for instance. Both of these lifestyle choices can not only predispose one to the development of cancer, but may cause the disease in some individuals. If one is exposed to radiation or carcinogenic substances in one’s profession, these may also lead to the development of cancer. Low socioeconomic status, while it does not directly cause cancer, too often predisposes individuals to the disease, due to unhealthy lifestyle choices, poor nutrition, and lack of access to medical care.
There is an emerging body of evidence supporting the links between psychological factors and the development of some types of cancer. Although such evidence is correlational and not causal in nature, there is sufficient support to suggest that psychological factors do, in fact, play a critical role in the risk for cancer. Specifically, a growing body of evidence suggests that stress can contribute to cancer development. Stress produces a hormone called cortisol, which can lead to cellular damage and a reduction in the body's ability to fight off harmful agents or pathogens if present longitudinally. Stress may also lead to self-medicating behaviors like tobacco and alcohol use, which increase the risk of cancer. The current consensus in the medical community is that psychological, social, and physical health are inherently related and poor psychological health will inevitably lead to reductions in the functioning of these other two systems. Accordingly, social factors can play particularly important roles in the treatment of cancer. Social support can alleviate stress and promote psychological and physical health. Additionally, social factors like income level and environmental exposure to stress can impact psychological health and cancer risk. The current consensus in the medical community regarding social factors and cancer is that social, psychological, and physical health are interrelated and, despite their sometimes complex and indirect relationships, the promotion of healthy functioning of each of these dimensions is critical in achieving remission.