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Hope Helps Kill Cancer

In a large study of oncologists, the doctors were all asked what single attribute among all the cancer patients they had ever treated, was most strongly a contributor to the patients’ recoveries from cancer. The patients had a wide variety of types of cancer. Yet, ninety percent of the queried oncologists reported that the most healing attribute for a patient to have was the sense of hope. Hope serves to boost the immune system, which allows it to have a better chance of killing the cancer. During the years I trained with Dr. Carl Simonton at the Simonton Cancer Center and in consults with Dr. Lawrence LeShan, author of Cancer as a Turning Point, the ways in which we most helped the patients was to help them find reasons for hope.

It is unfortunate that for decades the mainstream oncologists largely accused both Dr. Simonton and Dr. LeShan of “instilling false hope in their patients.” The reality is that there is no such thing as false hope; there is either hope or a lack of it. Traditional oncologists believed that if the odds of recovery were low, based on statistics, then, giving the patient hope would leave the patient feeling devastated if and when the cancer progressed. What these oncologists were unaware of is that hope is a boost to the immune system, which then improves the odds of recovery. Oncologists tend to think that it is only their treatments of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery that cure cancer.

Doctors Simonton and LeShan told patients that if they believed in the oncologist’s recommended treatments, the treatments would have a greater chance to work. I never once heard either of them ever tell a patient to just rely on hope and forego the recommended medical and surgical treatments.

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Hope Helps Kill Cancer

Dr. Larry Berkelhammer

Dr. Berkelhammer is a retired mind-body medicine psychologist. He writes about mindfulness-based practices with a unique emphasis on optimization of wellbeing and health. Dr. Berkelhammer also lectures at San Francisco State University and UC San Francisco, and is currently teaching a class in Marin County through College of Marin. He is the author of the book "In Your Own Hands; New Hope for People with Chronic Medical Conditions".

See his extensive website:

In Your Own Hands: Mindfulness-Based Practices to Optimize Wellbeing - College of Marin Community Education

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APA Reference
Berkelhammer, D. (2016). Hope Helps Kill Cancer. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 18 Apr 2016
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