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Happy Hormone vs. Cancer
June 3, 2014   
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They appear in our body when we are happy. They help relieve pain and make it easier for us to fight stress and disease. Beta-endorphins, called the hormone of happiness, may also have the potential to increase the effectiveness of cancer treatment, a Polish researcher says.

Dr. Katarzyna Kamińska from the Military Institute of Medicine in Warsaw aims to prove that an increased level of beta-endorphins in a patient’s body can have a huge impact on the success of cancer treatment. Doctors should be aware that the patient’s emotional state plays a huge role, Kamińska says, and that patients should be provided with psychological support. She came up with the idea for her research project as a result of contact with cancer patients.

“I noticed that patients rarely seek psychological advice, even though their doctors recommend they do so,” says Kamińska. “They are devastated and do not pay attention to their emotional state.” Meanwhile, psychological support should be treated on a par with oncology treatment, she says. If a patient starts thinking positively, the hope of recovery awakens in them, and this may translate into higher levels of beta-endorphins in their blood. And this can support the immune system in fighting the disease. Used in combination with cancer therapy, this may produce better overall treatment results.

Although the effect of beta-endorphins—the strongest of all endorphins—on the process of healing is scientifically proven, Kamińska says, so far no comprehensive study has been conducted to show the relationship between the patient’s emotional state and the level of beta-endorphins, on the one hand, and the patient’s response to treatment, on the other.

Kamińska plans to determine the emotional state of patients by using a special psychological test consisting of 25 questions. The patient undergoing the test will have to say to what extent statements such as “I try not to think about my disease” or “My illness worries me” reflect his or her mood. With each question, the patient is expected to tick one of four possible answers. The level of beta-endorphins will be determined in the patient’s blood. In a further stage of research, the patient’s doctor will provide information on how the patient responded to treatment.

Then Kamińska will compare several groups of patients using statistical methods. Each group will be made up of 20 patients. The first group will include patients who recently learned that they have colon cancer. The second group will consist of patients after colorectal cancer surgery. These will include both people whose cancer has been removed and those in whom the disease has spread to other organs. Another group will be formed by patients with an advanced stage of cancer and receiving palliative care.

This is not the only study that Kamińska wants to perform with beta-endorphins. In the second part of her research project, she intends to investigate the direct impact of beta-endorphins on tumor cells. She will administer the happiness hormones directly to cell cultures. This will allow her to check if beta-endorphins have an impact on cancer and result in either slowing or inhibiting cell division.

Kamińska plans to complete her research in December, using a zl.20,000 scholarship and a zl.80,000 grant from the Foundation for Polish Science.

Olga Majewska
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