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Earlier this week, a small furore broke out after TV personality Noel Edmonds make some online claims about an unproven cancer treatment, and about whether cancer can be ‘caused by stress and negativity’.

So we want to clarify what the current scientific evidence says about the link between negativity, stress and cancer, and about electromagnetism – the basis of the treatment that made the headlines this week.

Does negativity or stress cause cancer?

Links between negative thinking, stress and cancer is a topic that regularly comes up in the media and on social media. But there is no good evidence that negative thoughts or stress itself can raise a person’s risk of cancer).

The large studies to date recording people’s stress levels and their likelihood of cancer have concluded that being stressed doesn’t mean you are more likely to develop the disease – and it’s something we’ve discussed in detail on this blog too.

But it’s a complex issue. There are many factors that can affect cancer risk, and it is very difficult to study any of these in isolation, so this kind of research (called population research, or epidemiology) can be difficult for scientists to interpret. Even when an increased risk of cancer in people who perceive themselves to be stressed is recorded in a study, it doesn’t necessarily mean that stress itself is the underlying reason.

For example being stressed can affect whether people do things like smoke or drink alcohol, and how much and what they eat – all of which do affect cancer risk.

But it bears repeating – the best studies looking at this topic have failed to show a link between emotional stress and an increased risk of cancer.

Electromagnetic therapy – what is it?

So what about therapies using electromagnetic fields? The concept of using electromagnetic therapy to treat cancer is not new idea. Back in the 1920s, an American scientist called Royal Raymond Rife built the first known device that tried to use electromagnetic pulses to try and kill cancer cells, known as a Rife machine.

But in all the years since, no reliable evidence has ever been produced that Rife machines – or any similar devices producing low-frequency electromagnetic pulses – have any benefit for cancer patients. Nor have organisations that scrutinise new treatments and devices (like the US Food and Drug Authority or the European Medicines Agency) approved any as a therapy for any type of disease.

And as often the case with alternative therapies, there are potential harms – people have reported electric shocks and rashes from some devices, and there’s always the risk that people will try unproven therapies instead of treatments that are proven to work.

Our bodies use tiny electrical currents to function, for example our heart uses electrical currents to beat. There’s no telling what the possible long term harms of using electromagnetic therapy might be, particularly for people whose bodies are coping with other cancer treatments like chemotherapy.

And it can be extremely dangerous buying unknown, untested devices online.

That’s not to say that other forms of electromagnetism don’t play a role in cancer treatment – they most certainly do. High-frequency electromagnetism underpins imaging equipment, like X-rays, CT and MRI scans.

And of course radiotherapy – a cornerstone of treatment – consists of high-energy electromagnetic waves that destroy tumours.

But this is very different from the low-frequency waves produced by the devices that hit the headlines this week.

Is it all unfounded?

Nothing is set in stone. All we can base this information on is the evidence we have to date. Science is making constant progress, so we don’t know whether electromagnetic therapy will one day be a part of treatment for some cancer patients or not.

In fact, there is rigorous scientific research being carried out into low-frequency electromagnetic radiation (for example here). But this research is still at the earliest stage, using cancer cells growing in the lab, so there’s no evidence yet that it will work effectively in people.

So despite various claims you may have read in the papers over the last few days, there’s no good evidence that stress causes cancer, nor that machines producing low-frequency electromagnetic pulses can help kill cancer cells in patients with the disease.

Emma

Comments

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Ingrid Collin July 9, 2016

The Living Information Fields Energy (LIFE) System has been accepted as a Class 2A Medical Device, and I have had significant successes using it for many different conditions.

Helen Mullineux July 8, 2016

I really appreciate your considered, calm , research based response to the disinformation that keeps poppping up everywhere.

Gabrielle Hodge July 7, 2016

My father had skin cancer in the 1970s. The cancer was removed successfully by all accounts. In 1998 my mother was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. She refused hospital and palliative care and my dad cared for her literally 24/7 as she did not sleep well. He looked like death. She died in June 2000 and in September my dad had a type of fit. In April 2000 he was diagnosed with brain cancer. The consultant said it could easily have been the stress of looking after my mum. I believe this to be the case as coupled with that was his non ability to get decent rest of any kind, unable to eat or get fresh air. Surely would not help?

Jacey Turner July 7, 2016

The way I understood it is that prolonged stress can indeed play a part in hormone related cancers such as breast and prostate cancer. Is it not true that long-term stress causes the over-production of cortisol, which in turn can alter the hormonal balance of the body, allowing eostregen to become dominant and therefore fuelling the growth of hormone dependent cancer cells?

Dave H July 7, 2016

Unfortunately, I doubt this article will get the headlines that Noel Edmonds got. Some people unfortunately listen more to celebrities than people trained and expert in a subject. The sooner we get rid of celebrity endorsement as meaning anything whatsoever, the better.

It also means that a self-serving idiot like Noel Edmonds statements can waste valuable resources where sites like this are having to respond to such drivel whilst at the same time causing distress and concerns for people in genuine need for proper and correct information and support.

I’ve a fair idea of exactly where Noel Edmonds and his ilk should put their uniformed and ignorant opinions- and it’s not in the public’s’ gaze.

Frances E. Whiffin July 7, 2016

Articles like this can cause patients and their families to have false hope that another treatment could work this time. Having lost my eldest son last year to cancer I know how much one pins hope on anything to help give a cure. Charlatans make money from this hope.

Terry D July 7, 2016

I think that celebrities are the last people who should be espousing causes or cures for anything. Many seem to think that because they have the eye of the media that it gives them the right to spout personal superstitions as medical fact when, in truth, they are usually no more informed than the average joe in the street. In fact many of them fall victim to ridiculous beliefs about health practices that can actually be harmful. The press should treat them like any other self styled ‘health practitioner’ with the derision and ridicule they deserve. Vaginal bleaching, anti-vaccination, colonic cleansing, detox smoothies and especially wild claims about cancer cures are a dangerous road into poor self care and avoiding timely medical intervention when it is needed. People go to these quacks for a placebo and thats all they get. The underlying illness still exists and can pass the point where REAL medicine can help them. Illness and disease have scientific causes and only through scientific research will they be cured. Idiots like Noel Edmonds should keep their stupid views to themselves.

Heidi Coghlan July 7, 2016

It’s good to clarify these reports such as from Noel Edmunds as many people suffering with stress will only worry more especially as there is no evidence. Cancer research and other professional agencies are the only ones we can trust to rid us if this bike disease. Thank you again for explaining

Any July 7, 2016

@robert- your link appears to be to a hypotherapist who helps people who have already survived cancer? Not sure how that is related to this article concerning helping to cure people WITH cancer?

Any July 7, 2016

@betula- I don’t think you are correct- what exactly is a “cancer prone cell”? There is no chemical we can produce that can determine if a cell is “cancer prone” and act on it specifically!

Dee Bernhard-Grout July 7, 2016

After having Breast Cancer 10 years ago, I tend to agree with the information given. I do think a positive attitude is very important and can help cancer sufferers. I don’t agree that stress can necessarily cause cancer.

D July 7, 2016

I would be surprised if stress didn’t play a part getting cancer

Robert MacKay July 7, 2016

Sorry, but I think you need to study the work of David Spiegel and his Centre on Stress and Health: http://stresshealthcenter.stanford.edu

Betula Nelson July 7, 2016

Thought that the link between stress and cancer was more complex. Stress related chemicals thought to be acting on the cancer prone cells in a negative way if I remember correctly. It would be useful to read more about it on the blog.
Thank you for the article however.

Nicky Potter June 17, 2016

Does the money we raise for cruk go to any child cancer research??

zulfa June 11, 2016

very important, nice informations..thank