Posts Tagged ‘cancer’

The Role of Humor for a Healthy Memory

June 28, 2019

This post was inspired by a column by Marlene Cimons titled “Laughter can cure your ills? That’s no joke” in the Health and Science Section of the June 18, 2019 issue the Washington Post. She cites the following statement by Carl Reiner. “There is no doubt about it. Laughter is my first priority. I watch something that makes me laugh. I wake up and tickle myself while I’m still in bed. There is no greater pleasure than pointing at something, smiling and laughing about it. I don’t think there is anything more important than being able to laugh. When you can laugh, life is worth living. It keeps me going. It keeps me young.”

Reiner is 97. His fellow funny people: Mel Brooks is 93, Dick Van Dyke is is 93, Norman Lear will be 97, and Betty White is 97, seem to make this point.

Sven Svebak, professor emeritus at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology says, “A friendly sense of humor will bless you with better social relations as well as coping skills, and the reduced risk of dying early. A friendly sense of humor acts like shock absorbers in a car, a mental shock absorber in everyday life to help us cope better with a range of frustrations, hassles, and irritations.”

Norman Cousins asserted that self-induced bouts of laughter (and massive intravenous doses of vitamin C) extended his life after he was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, which is a debilitating form of arthritis. Cousins lived many years longer that his doctors initially predicted,

Edward Creagan, professor of medical oncology at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science said, “When people are funny, they attract other people, and community connectedness is the social currency for longevity. Nobody wants to be around negative, whiny people. It’s a drain. We’re attracted to funny people.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter stimulates the brain to release more endorphins. It also helps people manage stress by easing tension, relaxing the muscles and lowering blood pressure. It relieves pain and improves mood. Laughter also strengthens the immune system.

Creagan says, “When we laugh, it decreases the level of the evil stress hormone cortisol. When we are stressed, it goes high and this interferes with the parts of the brain that regulate emotions. When that happens, the immune system deteriorates and becomes washed in a sea of inflammation, which is a factor in hear disease, cancer, and dementia. Cortisol interferes with the body’s immune system, putting us at risk for these three groups of diseases.

The results of a large Norwegian study of 53,556 participants conducted by Svebak and his colleagues indicate that humor can delay or prevent certain life-threatening diseases. The scientists measured the subjects’ sense of humor with a health survey that included, among other things, a cognitive element, “asking the participants to estimate their ability to find something funny in most situations.

Women with high cognitive scores experience a reduced risk of premature death from cardiovascular and infectious diseases. Men with high cognitive scores had a reduced risk of early death from infections.

Ms. Cimons’s article also reported that humor seems to stimulate memories and improve mental acuity in the elderly, especially among those with dementia. Elder clowns are now also helping seniors in residential setting says Bernie Warren, professor emeritus in dramatic arts and the University of Windsor and founder of Fools for Health, a Canadian clown-doctor program.

There are good reasons that humor benefits a healthy memory. This can be thought of in terms of Kahneman’s Two Process of cognition. System 1 is our default mode of processing and is very fast. System 2 kicks in when we are learning something or when we hear or see something that is surprising. A joke occurs when something unexpected happens. If we are surprised and amused, that is due to System 2 processing kicking in. If System 2 does not kick in, then we miss the point and the humor of the joke. System 2 processing is critical for both a good sense of humor and a healthy memory.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How Medicine Got Too Good for It’s Own Good

April 12, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a Feature Article by Wendy Glauser in the Feature section in the 7 April 2018 Issue of the New Scientist. H. Gilbert Welch is both a physician and an academic researcher. He has spend the last 25 years warning of the dangers of overzealous medicine. He fears that doctors are detecting problems too early convincing healthy people they are sick, and treating them too aggressively.

His latest research was published in December in the Journal of the American Medical Association. He found that in US hospital regions with high rates of CT scans, which are typically ordered to check the lungs and abdomen, many more kidneys are removed. Apparently when doctors look at the images they see the kidneys too, and often stumble on innocuous cancers. Welch said, “It’s leading some people to be treated for disease that was never going to bother them. Moreover, there is significant risk. 1 in 50 of those who underwent surgery died within a month.

Welch is a professor at the Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine, He has written three books highlighting unnecessary medical care, as well as dozens of journal articles and call-to-arms pieces in newspapers such as The New York Times. With biomedical companies designing ever more tests, such as breath-tests for cancer, the problem seems poised to worsen. Welch says, “It’s a very frothy industry right now.”

Welch says, “I was taught in medical school that once a cancer was formed, it was going to relentlessly progress to metastatic cancer. We now know it’s a whole lot more complex than that.” Cancers can grow quickly and slowly; some even vanish on their own.

A new test the worries Welch is liquid biopsy, which identifies pieces of “cell-free DNA” in the blood to determine whether someone has cancer and how bad that cancer is. Welch says, “You think, how could you possibly argue with that, until you look under the hood.” We all have cell-free DNA in our blood, and liquid biopsy analyzes about 2000 different mutations in this DNA. An algorithm then determines what thresholds and combinations of mutation equal cancer. Welch worries about a future in which people are told: “You have a positive liquid biopsy, but we don’t know where the tumor is, so we’re gonna have to start looking.”

Richard Baker a radiologist and colleague of Welch’s says the he often dissuades his patients from a biopsy on their thyroids after imaging has found a nodule, even though that is why they’re seeing him. Baker says, “Thyroid biopsies are skyrocketing in this country, yet deaths from thyroid cancer have always been rare in the US and treatment carries risks of its own. These are difficult ideas for both patients and physicians to accept.

Regarding mammography he found that looking at women who were screened every year for a decade from the age of 50, he found that for every 1000 of these women, roughly one will avoid death through breast cancer, more than 500 will have at least one false alarm and 10 will be treated needlessly.

Welch asks if people want medical care as a way to deal with acute problems for things that are bothering them? Or do they want to take the power of medicine to look hard to try to find things wrong with them? In this age of super-sensitive diagnostics, seek and ye shall find.

For more information on this topic go to the healthy memory blog post, “Less Medicine, More Health.” Better yet, read the book by Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, “Less Medicine, More Health.”

Cancer and the Genetic Horizons of Mind Body Treatment

December 5, 2015

This title is the same as the title of Chapter 8 in the “Relaxation Revolution” by Benson and Proctor.  This research is in an early stage.  They used the data from the experiment reported in the immediately preceding healthy memory blog post, “The Genetic Breakthrough—Your Ultimate Mind Body Connection.”  The data from this study was compared with cancer databases compiled  by the Broad Institute  of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Weitzman Institute of Science in Israel.  These databases identify cancer gene “signatures” or “sets,” which are associated with groups of gene activity of different cancer patients.  Specifically, they assessed whether gene sets in the relaxation response subjects might correlate with cancer-associated gene sets in cancer patients.

The results were presented at the Society for Integrative Oncology, 6th International Conference in 2009.  The findings were highly encouraging for future research and possible medical treatment.  They found that the gene set expression in the long-term relaxation response practitioners in their study was counter to the gene expression in the following cancers:  lymphoma (follicular and B cell lymphoma), neuro tumors (central nervous system and glioma), liver, leukemia), multiple myeloma, B cell chronic lymphoblastic leukemia, and another form of leukemia.  The results from the long-term practitioners showed gene set expression that was in the same direction as, or consistent with, the expression found in certain anticancer therapies.

The results were also encouraging for the short-term trainees who had started with no background in mind body techniques, but who had been instructed in Phase One relaxation response.  Their relaxation response gene set expression signatures countered or opposed the gene signatures for such cancer as neuro tumors, multiple myeloma, and leukemia.

Do not forget that the relaxation response is helpful in dealing with stress in general.  So to the extent cancer or cancer treatments produce stress, the relaxation response is helpful in dealing with that stress.

Unfortunately, I do not know how far research has advanced since the publication of this book.  Anyone who can provide information or sources,  please provide comments.

Five Common Misunderstandings About Screening

May 25, 2010

 This blog posting is taken largely from the chapter, “Breast Cancer Screening,” which comes from the book, Calculated Risks: How to Know When Numbers Deceive You by Gerd Gigerenzer. I highly recommend this book. It provides important insights into risks and how they can be misinterpreted. This blog posting takes no position on screening. Its objective is to provide an accurate understanding of risks. Although the specific topic is breast cancer, for the most part it applies to disease screening in general.

Screening tests are not meant for patients with known symptoms. Screening is intended for people without symptoms. The objective is early detection.

Screening does not reduce the incidence of breast cancer. That is the purpose of preventive measures. Early detection does not lead to prevention, although it is hoped that it leads to a cure and mortality reduction.

Early detection does not necessarily imply mortality reduction. For example, if there is no effective therapy, early detection has no effect on mortality. In these cases, early detection does not increase life expectancy. Instead it increases the time the patient consciously has to live with cancer.

All breast cancers do not progress. Sometimes mammography detects a form of breast cancer called “ductal carcinoma in situ.” In fact, the majority of cancers found in the screening of younger women are “ductal carcinomas in situ.” Half or more of these lesions do not seem to progress.

Consequently, early detection is not always beneficial. If a cancer would not progress, or would not progress enough to kill the woman during her life, early detection is harmful rather than beneficial. Invasive treatments such as mastectomy or lumpectomy with radiation with radiation might severely reduce her quality of life. Prostate cancer can progress very slowly in some men. So slowly that a man can die from something else before he even knows he has prostate cancer. Consequently, some men have undergone surgery that resulted in incompetence and/or impotence for a cancer that they might have outlived had they not undergone the surgery.