Don’t Blame Patients for Getting Cancer

In Breast Cancer, Recent Posts by Barbara Jacoby

You receive a diagnosis of cancer. Your world has been changed forever. You are facing years and perhaps a lifetime of doctors’ appointments and treatments and tests. And as if this wasn’t enough, you are suddenly faced with a boatload of guilt because you are being blamed for getting cancer.

Blame serves absolutely no positive purpose and is the last thing that any cancer patient should ever have to face. Barbara Jacoby

Two years ago the results of a study by Bert Vogelstein and Cristian Tomasetti at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center created a lot of controversy when it was determined that many cancers were unavoidable. Critics of these findings felt that many of their messages about cancer prevention were being undermined. So when these scientists had new results, Vogelstein decided to present their findings with a new approach as quoted below:

“We all agree that 40 percent of cancers are preventable,” he said at a news conference. “The question is, what about the other cancers that aren’t known to be preventable?”

“The answer: 66 percent of the total mutations are random, about 29 percent are due to the environment and the remaining five percent are due to heredity.

Lung cancer is largely the result of environmental causes, while the vast majority of childhood cancer is a result of these bad-luck mutations, they found.”

The complete findings reveal a lot more information and explanations than we may have had before. However, knowing that more than half of all cancers are not preventable for any one of several reasons with the majority coming from random mutations, why would or should any patient be assigned responsibility for their own cancer?

I understand that we are advised that we can reduce our risk of lung cancer by avoiding tobacco. But how many people do you personally know who never smoked a day in their lives and were not around second-hand smoke who got lung cancer while we know so many smokers who live to a ripe old age without having any signs of lung disease or any other cancer. And how about those people who eat well, maintain a healthy body weight and exercise regularly who get cancer while there are many other people who have poor diets, are obese and never exercise who never get cancer?

I am not suggesting that we don’t do everything possible to lead a healthy life but I am saying that to blame anyone for getting cancer is wrong on so many levels. We cannot say definitively why a person gets cancer. The smoker that gets lung cancer might not have gotten cancer if not for the smoking but perhaps that person would have gotten lung cancer even without the smoking. Just because a woman is obese and gets breast cancer does not mean that if she had always lived a healthy lifestyle and maintained a perfect weight that she would not have gotten breast cancer anyway.

Blame serves absolutely no positive purpose and is the last thing that any cancer patient should ever have to face. Most cancer patients already are trying to determine why they got cancer and most likely are undergoing their own self-recrimination. Therefore, it really is necessary for not only the patient but also all of those with whom they interact to focus on all of the positive ways that they can move forward. To waste energy on blame and supposition on what may have been or might be the cause of cancer is detrimental to everyone. Until such time as all of the answers can be found with scientific accuracy about how any particular person gets a cancer, we have no right to lay blame on anyone. And how much better it is for a patient who receives only positive care, hope and support in order to help that patient to navigate their course of treatment and live each day with inspiration for the future.