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Meaningful Relationships Reduce Odds of Developing Cancer

In one of the longest-running prospective studies, 1300 medical students at Johns Hopkins were followed for forty years. While at Hopkins they were given psychological tests exploring the ability of the students to have meaningful relationships. Thirty years later, the researchers discovered that those who had developed cancer were the same ones who had reported the greatest lack of closeness in their families of origin. Those who had developed cancer also turned out to be the same ones who had tested as having the poorest potential to have meaningful relationships. These same individuals had shown the least ability to accept honest emotional expression in themselves as well as in those closest to them. Those who had tested as loners were also the ones who exhibited the most emotional suppression. It turned out that this subset had developed cancer at sixteen times the rate of those who were comfortable with emotional expression. Three groups of researchers contributed to this data:

Thomas C, Duszynski K, and Shaffer J. Family attitudes reported in youth as potential predictors of cancer. J of Psychosomatic Medicine, 1979;41:287-482.

Shaffer J, Duszynski K, and Thomas C. Family attitudes in youth as a possible precursor of cancer among physicians: A search for explanatory mechanisms. J of Behavioral Medicine, 1982;5:143-163.

Graves P, Thomas C, and Mead L. Familial and psychological predictors of cancer. Cancer Detection Review, 1991;15:59-64.

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Meaningful Relationships Reduce Odds of Developing 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".

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

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APA Reference
Berkelhammer, D. (2016). Meaningful Relationships Reduce Odds of Developing Cancer. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 22, 2020, from


Last updated: 4 May 2016
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