What is Cancerophobia? (An Overview)
In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Cancerophobia.
Fear of cancer is called Cancerophobia. Cancer is one of the most feared diseases in the world.
People fear it because of the fact that many die if not cured on time.
Cancer is a disease, caused when there is an uncontrollable division of body cells which destroy the body’s normally functioning tissues/cells.
Mutations lead to the development of this dangerous disease.
Fearing it is very normal because almost every other person around us is afraid of getting it and people anticipate death.
Thus, it would be inaccurate to label it as an irrational fear because cancer does affect one’s health severely.
It can cause serious long lasting damage to the sufferers health.
However, people suffering from Cancerophobia experience extreme levels of anxiety and terror when they think of cancer or even meet someone who has it.
This is because it is a type of specific phobia which comes under the category of anxiety disorders in the DSM-V.
Because of these extremely high levels of anxiety, one compromises his social and occupational functioning in order to eliminate these unpleasant feelings.
For example, one avoids going to the hospital and or visiting a doctor because they fear they might get diagnosed with cancer.
One will also be afraid of meeting people who suffer from it.
Because of this an individual can develop Nosocomephobia (fear of hospitals) and or Iatrophobia (fear of doctors).
Additionally, a sufferer will avoid all possible sources of cancer, such as using a microwave oven, going out in the sun etc.
These avoidances are what maintains one’s fear of cancer because of the feelings of security it produces.
Repetitive acts of avoidance, in the future can lead to one developing OCD and or depression.
if , at times avoidance becomes impossible, someone suffering from Cancerophobia will undergo full-blown panic attacks.
Cancerophobia is an irrational fear of cancer.
It is a type of specific phobia in which one undergoes repeated medical examinations/tests to check if they suffer from cancer or not.
Symptoms of Cancerophobia
All anxiety disorders, including specific phobias, have anxiety as their pivotal symptom.
Therefore, someone suffering from Cancerophobia will experience extreme anxiety when exposed to their fear stimuli, cancer.
Though, Cancerophobia is not wholly irrational but someone suffering from this phobia is unable to rationalise his fear and ends up getting anxious.
According to the DSM-V, to be diagnosed with Cancerophobia, one needs to experience anxiety lasting for at least 6 months and at least 3-5 symptoms (from the list mentioned below).
- Excessive anxiety when exposed to cancer
- Excessive anxiety when thinking about cancer
- Inability to manage anxiety
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Avoiding listening about or getting cancer
- Increased heart beat
- Muscle tension
- Feelings of dizziness/fainting
- Fear of an impending doom
- Feeling depressed
- Excessive sweating
- Hot/cold flashes
- Butterflies in the stomach
- Drying up of mouth
Causes of Cancerophobia
All anxiety disorders, including specific phobias have no real/definite cause.
They are caused by either a genetic predisposition and or environmental factors.
According to the genetic/biological model, specific phobias are developed due to a genetic predisposition.
Someone who has a family history of anxiety disorders has a higher chance of developing Cancerophobia. This is because any alteration in the genes of his parents will be transferred to him.
An imbalance in the neurotransmitter levels of the brain can also be one of the many reasons as to why one develops Cancerophobia.
These alterations are low dopamine levels and high serotonin levels.
This genetic tendency to develop a specific phobia is further explained by the Diathesis-stress relationship.
This suggests that someone with a genetic predisposition will develop Cancerophobia only in the presence of the correct environmental trigger event.
Someone whose parents have suffered from cancer will get their medical tests done repeatedly.
They will develop Cancerophobia because they fear they’ll get cancer as it is a hereditary disease.
Listening to about someone’s sufferings or death from cancer can also induce fear.
Likewise, news and stats depict the deadly side of cancer.
The number of people who die annually due to it and the pain and misery one goes through in it can also cause Cancerophobia.
To conclude, Cancerophobia is developed by both genetics and environmental factors.
Treatment of Cancerophobia
Cancerophobia, like all other specific phobias, has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.
Like all the other specific phobias, Cancerophobia is treated by a number of different methods: Psychological treatment and Biological treatment.
- Psychological Treatment
• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is one of the most frequently used treatments for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders.
Cancerophobia is defined as the irrational fear of cancer.
Thus, the therapist helps the patient in replacing these irrational thoughts with more rational ones.
The patients are helped out in analyzing and justifying the way they feel about their fear stimuli.
Therapists assist them in uncovering the reasons behind their fear and later they provide them with alternate, pleasant thoughts.
The patient is told to maintain a thought diary (with ABCD column) which provides them a replacement for every irrational thought they have, when thinking about a particular situation.
The ABCD stands for:
i. A (antecedents) a situation or triggering event.
ii. B (belief) the thought that comes to one’s mind when in that triggering situation.
iii. C (consequences) the symptoms/feelings caused by that event/thought
iv. D (dispute) alternate, rational thoughts provided by the therapist in an attempt to dispute/challenge those irrational beliefs.
This last section of the thought diary is what really plays a role in helping the person feel good/less anxious.
• Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR is a meditation therapy, used to manage stress or anxiety. It is an 8-week program which includes group sessions.
Mindfulness meditation and Hatha yoga are practiced in these sessions.
Lectures and group discussions are also done to talk about mental health and increase interactivity.
In mindfulness meditation the person is told to, for example, focus on the sensations felt while breathing or the rhythm of the chest rising and falling during the process.
This distracts the person’s attention from something stressful to something which is neutral and soothing.
For quick and effective treatment, patients are also given a set of home works, for example 45 minutes of yoga and meditation sessions for 6 days a week and to record their results/feelings in a book or diary for 15 minutes a day.
• Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
This another form of treatment used with patients suffering from specific phobia or anxiety disorders.
It is used with patients who know the cause of their phobia.
First, the therapist collects the patients’ history of different fears. They then identify the real cause of the particular fear/phobia the patient has.
They then discuss any new/latest event that triggered their anxiety and fear in the past few weeks.
People coming with specific phobias are told to imagine their distress causing stimuli.
The therapist then works with the individual in order for them to overcome their fear.
In the case of Cancerophobia, the patient will be advised on how to overcome his fear of cancer.
They do this by creating a positive imagery for the patients’ feared stimuli.
• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This is another effective therapy used to treat Cancerophobia.
It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients suffering from this type of animal specific phobia.
Coping skills are taught in the DBT group which lasts for about 6-months and can have a number of people (depending on how many join the group).
i.Half-smiling is the first module of DBT. It is a technique that is used with patients who are distressed because of their irrational thoughts.
The technique is known as ‘Half-smiling’ because the person is first advised to think about the stimuli that fears or upsets them, and while doing so they are told to lift the corners of their mouths by subtly smiling. Smiling is not that will help one get rid of these unpleasant thoughts, it is the person’s ability to constrain itself from thinking about those thoughts while half smiling.
ii.Mindfulness, the second module, is another technique used in DBT groups which helps the individual in getting rid of those negative thoughts. Individuals are told to focus on the present and be attentive to what is going on around them at the moment.
This helps in breaking the link between their mind and any negative thought that might come to them then.
For example, a person is told to focus on his breath or on the sound of the wind around them, making use of their auditory sense.
iii.The third technique or module of the DBT is distress tolerance skills. This module teaches people to calm themselves down in healthy ways when they are distressed or emotionally overwhelmed.
Individuals are allowed to make wise, rational decisions and take immediate action, rather than being captured by emotionally destructive thoughts that might make the situation worse.
Reality acceptance skills are also learnt under this model so that people fully accept reality and later make plans on how to address the problem.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Cancerophobia, instead they are one of the most common ways of relaxation used by many people.
Yoga tends to stimulate the meditative state of one’s mind while the person is in a particular yoga posture.
Through yoga/meditation the mind is diverted towards something more productive and calm, allowing the person to escape the negative, distress causing thoughts.
Out of a number of yoga types, one can benefit from any yoga type/pose they like.
Hatha yoga is one of the different types of yoga.
The breathing techniques or the imagery one creates while in a yoga posture are the real factors that makes the person feel less anxious and diverts their mind, away from the thoughts about cancer.
- Biological Treatment
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Cancerophobia. Drugs are very quick in effectiveness, as they start showing progress in the patients’ health at least 2 weeks after the medicine is taken.
This type of biological treatment is usually more effective if the cause of the phobia is only genetic.
However, these drugs/medicines are not to be taken without a doctor’s prescription or consultation.
Two types of drugs are used in the treatment of this phobia:
i. Antidepressant Drugs
These drugs, as the name suggests don’t only treat depression but are also very effective in treating phobias.
Medicines like Paxil reduce the anxious feelings of a person and makes him feel calm. They need to be taken on a daily basis but not without a doctor’s advice.
Medicines like Klonopin are anti-anxiety drugs.
They are most commonly used with patients who experience panic attacks and also lowers their anxiety by binding to receptor cells of the brain that cause these unpleasant symptoms.
Whether the cause of Cancerophobia, or any other type of specific phobia is genetics, environmental or both, the best and the most effective way of treating them is by using a combination of both biological treatments (drugs) with cognitive treatment (for example CBT/exposure therapy).
Titles to read
by Raymond Francis MSc
by Mauris L. Emeka and Gabriel Emeka
by Steven Soifer, George Zgourides, et al.
- The American Psychiatric Association Publishing Textbook of Anxiety, Trauma, and Ocd-related Disorders
by Edited by Naomi M. Simon, M.D., et al.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) How can I get rid of my fear of cancer?
Therapies like CBT, DBT and or medicinal drugs are effective in treating Cancerophobia.
Q2) Why do I worry about cancer all the time?
Cancer is one of the most feared diseases. People fear cancer because many die of it.
Q3) What are the symptoms of Cancerophobia?
Excessive anxiety, panic attacks, increased heart rate, breathlessness are few of the symptoms one suffers from.
Below is a complete list of all Phobias which we currently cover.