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Lifetime Experiences and Breast Cancer

April 29, 2019
Nina Fry-Kizler, Science Team

Did you know that breast cancer is the most common cancer in women on our planet? Many researchers have been working to figure out why that is and what contributes to the onset of breast cancer. While these studies certainly help us understand breast cancer better, the precise cause of breast cancer is still unclear and is likely multifactorial, meaning that the cause is not just one thing. Much of the research has focused on the biological factors that may contribute to breast cancer, such as genetics, age, race, hormonal balance, diet, obesity, and the environment (Gray, Rasanayagam, Engel, & Rizzo, 2017). While these are clearly important, at IONS we are interested in looking deeper into the psychosocial, emotional, and even energetic nature of breast cancer and are doing just that in our active research study, Exploring Lifetime Experiences of Women with Breast Cancer.

Intuitively and anecdotally, the general population and researchers have sensed a psychological underpinning to the cause of breast cancer, however, thus far research has not uncovered exactly what that connection might be. An early study looking at “cancer-prone” personality traits found no difference between breast patients and non-breast cancer participants in terms of factors like emotional expression and control, self-esteem, anxiety, or depression (Price et al., 2001). A more recent and larger study in Japan found that having “ikigai” (a Japanese word meaning something that makes one’s life worth living), decisiveness, and perceived stress were not associated with risk of developing breast cancer (Sawada et al., 2016). Another study in Japan found no significant connection between personality (extraversion, neuroticism, psychoticism, and honesty) and breast cancer (Minami et al., 2015). The researchers of these studies concluded that personality does not significantly impact the development and progression of breast cancer.

These studies were large, well done, and extensive. However, the results do not align with the intuitive sense that there may be a psychological aspect to the development of breast cancer. Perhaps researchers have not be asking the right questions. IONS’ Exploring Lifetime Experiences of Women with Breast Cancer study asks the question: “Are lifetime experiences, including physical, emotional and energetic challenges or trauma, linked to breast cancer risk?”

We have already completed the first phase of this study, in which 1,000 women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and 1,000 women who had never been diagnosed with cancer of any kind completed an online questionnaire about their life experiences in childhood and adulthood. Based on their responses, we developed and are now launching the second phase of this study, in which we will take a deeper dive into the research by conducting interviews with 50 women.

We are currently seeking women who:

  • are between 35-90 years old
  • have been diagnosed with breast cancer
  • have not been diagnosed with other types of cancer
  • are able to complete a written timeline exercise (10-15 min), an online questionnaire (20-30 minutes), and an interview (30-45 minutes)
  • are currently receiving some form of mental health care/counseling
  • reside in the United States

All study activities are confidential and participants will receive a $75 Visa Gift Card as compensation.

If you are interested in participating in this study, please complete the screening questionnaire and we will let you know if you are eligible! And please share with any individuals or communities who you think might be interested in this study.

We are hopeful that this study and others like it will help us understand the connection between mind and body supporting the prevention of diseases like cancer in the future.


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