Can Loneliness Lead To Cancer? Recent Studies Explore The Possibilities

Date March 13, 2018 11:25

Cancer is a devastating and often fatal illness. The fact that there has not been conclusive evidence as to what actually causes different types of cancer makes the situation even more worrying. There have been several studies aimed at pinpointing the causes of cancer, and if new research is to be believed, loneliness may be one of them.

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The effect of loneliness on genes

You have probably heard from reliable medical sources that loneliness can manifest in your physical health. But how much does it affect our susceptibility to cancer?

READ ALSO: 14-Year-Old Boy Recovers From Aggressive Cancer After Doctors Said He Had Hours To Live

Researcher Steven Cole of the University of California, Los Angeles, and some of his colleagues, found that chronic loneliness may actually affect the genetic activity of an individual. The results were based on the outcome after people were tested using the U.C.L.A. Loneliness Scale. This is a self-administered psychiatric questionnaire used to measure emotion.

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Those who scored in the top 15 percent on this scale had an increased gene activity linked to inflammation. They also had reduced gene activity which is associated with the production of antibodies and effective antiviral responses.

During his analysis of over 1023 Taiwanese adults, Cole sought to find out what led to these results. His findings showed that the hormone cortisol was not effective at suppressing the genes that lead to inflammation. Inflammation has been shown to be a risk factor for such illnesses as heart disease and cancer.

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In other words, the absence or limited level of cortisol (which is found in lonely people) may lead to cancer.

So, are all lonely people at risk of cancer? Is there a specific range of loneliness one has to reach before it becomes dangerous? Cole and his colleagues are still working on finding more answers.

Another study with a different approach.

An analysis of 70 studies done at Brigham Young University also found that experiencing loneliness can increase an individual's chances of dying by as much as 26 percent.

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Research teams from the University of Chicago and the University of California, Los Angeles, tried to make sense of these numbers.

READ ALSO: By Rights, I Shouldn’t Be Here’: After His Battle With Cancer, Ronnie Wood Feels Incredibly Lucky To Be Alive

John Cacioppo, who is an expert in loneliness and also a psychologist at the University of Chicago, explained that loneliness is a very toxic state of emotion.

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Cacioppo said that loneliness can trigger a long-term 'fight or flight' signal that affects the functions of the immune system, especially the production of white blood cells.

To put it simply, those who experience loneliness have less immunity and more inflammation than those who don't. And when this happens, it puts the lonely person's body in a chronic stress state which can contribute to cancer.

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So, what do you do if you experience loneliness?

Toni Bernhard J.D, author of How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow, shared some of her tips for battling loneliness. /

  1. Remember, it's not your fault, so don't drown in a constant state of guilt.
  2. Find solace in non-human connection. You can seek comfort in a pet, take a walk or enjoy a favorite nature show.
  3. Hone your creativity. It does not have to be anything too fancy. Try a coloring book, do a jigsaw puzzle, whatever helps ignite your creative side.
  4. Do something nice for others. Sometimes, helping someone can distract you from your own battles and make you feel good.
  5. Connect with other humans whenever possible. Surround yourself with supportive people and share your feelings with those that can empathize. /

The studies linking loneliness to cancer are not 100 percent conclusive, but they can serve as the motivation we need to work on our emotional health.

READ ALSO: Downton Abbey Star Nicky Henson Reveals He’s Been Battling Cancer For 18 Years But Never Lost His Humor

This article is solely for informational purposes. Do not self-diagnose or self-medicate, and in all cases consult a certified healthcare professional before using any information presented in the article. The editorial board does not guarantee any results and does not bear any responsibility for any harm that may result from using the information provided in the article.