Cancer is the cause of about 7.6 million deaths each year worldwide. There are numerous types of cancers and a variety of genetic and environmental factors have been identified as potential causes, but there is one major contributor to the disease that is almost always overlooked: Repressed emotions, and unexpressed anger in particular.
A number of studies compiled on Alternative Cancer Care note the link between repressed anger and cancer. One from the King’s College Hospital in London found “a significant association between the diagnosis of breast cancer and a behaviour pattern, persisting throughout adult life, of abnormal release of emotions.”
Other research by the University of Rochester and Harvard School of Public Health found that people who suppress anger have a 70 percent higher risk of dying from cancer. And a University of Michigan study found that suppression of anger predicted earlier mortality in men and women.
Assorted other research has found results along the same lines. “Extremely low anger scores have been noted in numerous studies of patients with cancer,” notes a research review published in 2000 in the Cancer Nursing journal. “Such low scores suggest suppression, repression, or restraint of anger.”
“There is evidence to show that suppressed anger can be a precursor to the development of cancer, and also a factor in its progression after diagnosis,” the study notes. Some research even suggests that cancer patients undergo treatments designed to mobilize their anger in order to better fight off the disease.
Although the link between emotion and cancer is downplayed by many conventional health practitioners, the evidence is substantial. Dr. Gabor Maté collected a vast assemblage of studies linking stress to cancer and other health ailments in his 2003 book When the Body Says No: Exploring the Stress-Disease Connection. Some stretch back decades, such as a study called “Personality in Male Lung Cancer Patients” published in the Journal of the Psychosomatic Research in 1962, in which lead researcher David Kissen found that men with lung cancer “have poor and restricted outlets for the expression of emotion, as compared with non-malignancy lung patients and normal controls.”
Another study cited in an article entitled “Psychotherapeutic Treatment of Cancer Patients” found that early cancer could be predicted with 75 percent accuracy in women by evaluating their emotional states, namely whether they had unresolved frustrations.
To Maté, there is no question as to the role of emotions on physical health, particularly when they are repressed. “Psychological influences make a decisive biological contribution to the onset of malignant disease through the interconnections linking the components of the body’s stress apparatus: the nerves, the hormonal glands, the immune system and the brain centres where emotions are perceived and processed,” he wrote. “Habitual repression of emotion leaves a person in a situation of chronic stress, and chronic stress creates an unnatural biochemical milieu in the body.”
The doctor cites story after story of children who learned to suppress their anger and other emotions in order to survive in dysfunctional households. Those ingrained repressive patterns followed them for the rest of their lives, which too often are cut short when the stress and unexpressed anger contribute to the onset of cancer or another debilitating disease.
The message, and the research, leads to an important conclusion: If you are feeling anger, find a healthy way to express it. Holding it in could be deadly.