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False Hope and False Hopelessness
By David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD,
Author of Anticancer: A New Way of Life


We should be careful to avoid false hopes when talking about cancer. But not telling patients what the scientific literature says they can do to help themselves to prevent cancer or treat it better leaves them with false hopelessness!

One of the main concerns of any physician is to not impart false hope to a patient. This is because a genuine, honest, relationship with a patient is the cornerstone of treatment.  How can we convince someone who doesn't feel so ill at the moment to endure the torments of chemotherapy if they don't have complete trust in us?

For this reason, many physicians are concerned about touting the benefits of life-style changes to their patients when it comes to the prevention or treatment of cancer. Indeed, the benefits of an anticancer diet, of mind-body practices or even of physical exercise have not received the same amount of evidenced-based support from large clinical trials than, say, chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

As a physician myself, I understand and share that concern. However, I'm also concerned about the consequences of not telling people about the scientific evidence showing that they can help themselves to prevent or fight an existing cancer. Though they cannot replace conventional treatments, life style changes act on many of the core mechanisms of cancer progression and can greatly contribute to better outcomes. If we don't tell our patients this, we leave them with a false hopelessness.

As a physician with cancer, I've discovered that we can all create an anticancer biology for ourselves through the choices we make in our lives. I'm in better health and happier than before I was ever ill. What I've learned in my own journey of 16 years with cancer is that the best way to go on living is not so much to "fight the disease." To the contrary, it's to nourish life at all levels of my being: through my meals three times a day, through my walks in nature, through the meaning and purpose I find in my actions, through the protection of our environment, and through the flow of love in my relationships. Science told me that this slows down cancer, but, perhaps more importantly, it brings to my life, every day, a new vibrancy.

©2008 David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD

Author Bio
David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD,
is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and cofounder of the Center for Integrative Medicine. He lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Paris, France.  He has been a cancer survivor for 16 years, and is the author of the International Best-Seller Anticancer: A New Way of Life, coming from Viking September 2008.