The Mind Can’t Cure Cancer

James Coyne emphasizes findings by the American Cancer Society that “psychotherapy and support groups DO NOT improve prospects for survival of cancer”:

What a wonderful world it would be if, when confronted with a diagnosis of cancer, patients could mobilize their immune system and extend their survival time by merely eating the right foods, practicing yoga and relaxation exercises, and venting their emotions in support groups. The idea that patients can exert control over their cancer with such steps is deeply entrenched in psychosomatic medicine and the imagination of the lay public, and evidence to the contrary has been sometimes bitterly resisted.

Of course, cancer patients can use psychological techniques to relieve stress, or go to support groups for emotional relief and validation for their experiences and thereby improve the quality, if not the quantity of life. But the prospect of being able to improve the quality of life has always paled by comparison to the promise of being able actually to extend it.