An evaluation of the claim that psychological factors are causally associated with cancer

Earle, Margaret Jane


Earle, Margaret Jane (1963) An evaluation of the claim that psychological factors are causally associated with cancer.

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The claim has been made that psychological factors may contribute to the etiology of cancer. This thesis presents an examination of the difficulties of providing adequate evidence to support this claim from psychological studies of cancer patients. Although it has been reported that cancer patients differ psychologically from others, there is little agreement as to how they differ and little evidence that any observed differences are significantly associated with cancer. Moreover, were that association to be shown, there would still be nothing in it of any known etiological importance.The literature cannot preclude the view that the results so far obtained are merely by-products of faulty design and methods. Two studies are reported here on the basis of this view. The first study tests an alternative explanation of results reported by Le Shan and Worthington. They identified cancer patients correctly from a mixed group (cancer and non-cancer) on the basis of three personality characteristics found from responses to a projective test. It is hypothesised here that direct clues available from responses to this projective test would suffice for the identification of cancer patients without the aid of personality characteristics. Some support is provided for this hypothesis but the results of the study are inconclusive.In the second study it was possible to show statistically significant differences between answers of cancer patients and non-cancer subjects (peptic ulcer patients and healthy persons) to a simple personality questionnaire. Further analysis of results shows no difference betweenanswers of cancer patients and. peptic ulcer patients and no psychological characteristics common to a majority of cancer patients. This study demonstrates that statistical manipulation can provide spurious evidence for the existence of differences between cancer and non-cancer subjects which has little psychological significance.It is concluded that with psychological techniques now available it would be difficult to establish a correlation between personality and cancer. Also, with the present inadequacy of personality theory it is impossible to describe personality characteristics in physiological terms, and certainly not ones which could be linked with somatic dysfunction. For these reasons it is argued that psychosomatic research should be concerned with psychosomatic processes. Specific diseases can only be described as psychosomatic when these basic processes are better understood or if psychological treatment is helpful in removing or at least significantly relieving symptoms.

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This is a Accepted version
This version's date is: 1963
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Item TypeThesis (Doctoral)
TitleAn evaluation of the claim that psychological factors are causally associated with cancer
AuthorsEarle, Margaret Jane
Uncontrolled KeywordsEpidemiology; Health And Environmental Sciences; Associated; Cancer; Cancer Etiology; Causally; Claim; Cancer Etiology; Evaluation; Factors; Psychological



Deposited by () on 31-Jan-2017 in Royal Holloway Research Online.Last modified on 31-Jan-2017


Digitised in partnership with ProQuest, 2015-2016. Institution: University of London, Bedford College (United Kingdom).