Does Positive Additude Affect Breast Cancer?

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Ask the experts

I often read about someone "battling" cancer -- breast cancer, for example -- and just not giving up? Does one's mindset matter in such a situation?

Doctor's response

A good question and a very important one. Cancer is a problem that, like it or not, many of us must confront. Does our attitude make a difference in our fight against the tumor?

A study that bears directly on this question was reported by Dr. Maggie Watson and her colleagues from the Royal Marsden Hospital in Sutton, Surrey, England in the British medical journal The Lancet. Watson's team studied 578 women with early-stage breast cancer and administered three standardized tests that measured depression, anxiety, and mental adjustment to the diagnosis of cancer diagnosis to the women 4 to 12 weeks after diagnosis and then again a year later. After 5 years, 395 women were alive and had not had a relapse, while 133 had died.

The research team found that, among the patients with breast cancer, depression and a helpless/hopeless mindset was associated with a significantly reduced chance of what they termed an "event-free survival." While their mindset did not change the numerical time of survival, it did matter for the quality of that time.


  1. M Watson, J S Haviland, S Greer, J Davidson, J M Bliss: Influence of psychological response on survival in breast cancer: a population-based cohort study. The Lancet 1999;354:1331-1336.
  2. JB Tucker: Modification of attitudes to influence survival from breast cancer. The Lancet 1999;354:1320. (An editorial commenting on the research by Watson and colloeagues).

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Reviewed on 1/11/2018