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Journal of Integrative Medicine ›› 2022, Vol. 20 ›› Issue (1): 57-64.doi: 10.1016/j.joim.2021.11.005

• Original Clinical Research • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Searching for the emotional roots of breast cancer: A cross-disciplinary analysis integrating psychology, Chinese medicine, and oncology biomarkers

Ofer Baranovitcha,b, Meirav Wolff-Barc,d, Meora Feinmesserc,d, Chen Sade-Zaltzc,d, Ilan Tsarfatye, Victoria Neimand,f   

  1. a. Integrative Unit, Davidoff Cancer Center, Rabin Medical Center, Petach Tikva 4941492, Israel
    b. Maccabi Tivi (Maccabi Health Organization), Tel Aviv 6801294, Israel
    c. Department of Pathology, Rabin Medical Center, Petach Tikva 4941492, Israel
    d. Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv 6997801, Israel
    e. Department of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology, Sackler School of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv 6997801, Israel
    f. Institute of Oncology, Davidoff Cancer Center, Rabin Medical Center, Petach Tikva 4941492, Israel
  • Received:2020-09-09 Accepted:2021-09-18 Online:2022-01-12 Published:2022-01-13
  • Contact: Ofer Baranovitch E-mail:oferbaranovitch@gmail.com

Objective

We employed a multidisciplinary approach incorporating theoretical ideas, clinical experience, psychology, physiology, traditional Chinese medicine (CM), modern practice of CM, and oncology to explore the effect of patients’ repression of negative emotions and traumatic events on breast cancer (BC) pathogenesis.

Methods

BC female patients, older than 18 years of age, with available pathology reports who were treated at Rabin Medical Center were recruited. All participants completed questionnaires regarding medical history, behavioral tendencies, negative emotions, trauma, symptoms, and pathology (from a CM perspective). Data on tumor characteristics were collected from the pathology reports. The associations were examined using hierarchical binary logistic regressions. 

Results

A total of 155 BC patients were enrolled. The median age was 52 years, with a range of 26–79; 95% were mothers; 28% had estrogen receptor (ER)-negative BC, 52% had progesterone receptor (PR)-negative BC, 48% had human epidermal growth factor receptor 2-negative BC, and antigen Ki-67 ≥ 20% was reported for 52% of tumors. Statistically significant associations were found between the emotional markers (sense of motherhood failure, and lack of self-fulfillment), avoidance behavior, and physical symptoms that are related to emotional repression based on CM. Significant associations were also found between variables associated with physical symptoms of emotional repression, which involves the production and accumulation of non-substantial phlegm (i.e., “high-lipid Qi-like microscopic phlegm”), avoidance behavior which unconsciously uses “high-lipid Qi-like microscopic phlegm” in order to achieve emotional repression, and tumor parameters including tumor grade, PR status, and Ki-67. Patients with higher levels of “high-lipid Qi-like microscopic phlegm” were more likely to have tumors with worse prognosis (PR-negative, higher grade, and higher Ki-67). 

Conclusion

We demonstrated a relationship between emotional parameters, behavioral tendencies, CM parameters, and oncologic parameters in BC. Additional research is warranted to explore these associations and their relevance to clinical practice. 

Key words: Breast cancer, Chinese medicine, Negative emotions, Repression, Trauma, Phlegm

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