Chill, and lower the risk of lumps.

It’s about thirty years since I started saying that stress could be a major cause of cancer, or at least an exacerbating factor. About that time, I found out what stress does to your guts and it’s pretty dramatic. Stress can change the pH of your intestines by a lot, make them more alkaline, completely wreck the balance of your normal bacterial population and leave you more open to pathogens like Salmonella and Shigella. At the same time, turning your guts alkaline whacks your Lactobacilli which are your best defence against a lot of nasty squirt-bugs and even if you don’t get a squirt-bug, the meddled-with bacteria might decide it’s time to leave en masse.

There is nothing physically external happening to your body in this case – your brain is doing it all. In non-science terms: Stress is making your brain panic and fiddle around with hormone levels and that cascades into all sorts of cellular changes while the rest of the body tries to work out what the hell the admin department wants it to do. Just like in most big companies now.

In that situation, a precancerous cell (we all have them, all the time) has the ideal opportunity to turn cancerous and a benign tumour (a lot of us have those and don’t know, and never will because they stay small and benign) has the chance to metastasize.

When you are stressed, your immune system is running about looking for a threat that isn’t there. It’s just your brain sending out ‘Panic!’ messages.

A short burst of stress isn’t dangerous. Precancerous cells aren’t lurking, waiting for their chance. It’s a lottery – if the precancer turns to cancer while your immune system is distracted, it has a chance to grow. If it turns when the immune system is merely prowling, then it gets slapped down hard.

Sure, some will still get past that system, even if you’re cooler than a penguin’s feet. Other external causes – radiation, virus infection, many more – can cause so many cancer cells to appear at once that the immune system has no chance to stop them all. It only takes one big cancer to kill you.

There’s not much you can do about radiation other than coat yourself in lead, and lead’s toxic too so that won’t really help. You could avoid viruses by becoming a hermit and living halfway up a mountain in a cave – but viruses can have animal vectors too.

There’s not even much you can do about airborne particulates. Even if the oil runs out, someone will revive the old steam-powered cars and run them on coal or wood.

One thing you can do is to say ‘Oh what the hell, I can’t do anything about those things so I’m not going to worry about any of them’ and that stress release will improve your chances of staying non-lumpy.

It does not guarantee you’ll be forever lumpless, nothing can guarantee that. Sometimes, when cells divide, they simply get it wrong and there are millions of them in you. Most of the time a passing lymphocyte gets its taser out and deals with them. Once in a while, one goes unnoticed. No point worrying about this because there is absolutely nothing you can avoid as a ’cause’. There is no ’cause’, it’s just bad luck. Worrying about it actually makes it more likely to happen.

Stress is often seen as a cop-out. ‘Oh, he’s off work with stress, can’t take the pace, eh?’ but stress has real physical effects.

I know a few people who will read about an illness, convince themselves they have it and produce real symptoms when there is nothing wrong with them at all. Yes, they are stupid to read that stuff but psychosomatic illnesses can feel very real to those experiencing them. Sometimes I loan those people micriobiological disease catalogues out of a benevloent sense of malevolence and because it really is incredibly funny.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a psychosomatic illness but can I be sure? I do have a lot of books about diseases here and have read many more – is it possible I subconsciously convinced myself I had one of them? Then ‘recovered’ from something that was never there? Given my determined avoidance of the quacks and shamen of the NHS, I cannot rule it out.

As I have described in the past, it’s not at all hard to induce a psychosomatic effect, as long as you don’t push it too far. All it takes is a steady voice and a gullible drone who already believes in modern medical mythology. Yes, I really have induced chest-tightening, breathlessness and tingling in the extremities in antismoking morons just by talking to them. I have not induced cancer, or at least I didn’t think I had.

Then again, if I sufficiently raised their stress levels over a long enough period, maybe I did.

You know what? I’m not going to worry about it.

Smokers are like that. We don’t worry too much about things. That’s why those who are forced to stop smoking get stressed and often break out in lumps as a result.

I can think of three people off the top of my head who stopped smoking for no other reason than they didn’t want to smoke any more. Nothing to do with health or money or NHS-inspired guilt trips, one day they just lit up and thought ‘Nah’.

They did not become antismokers, they did not suffer any withdrawal at all, no stress, no need for doctors or medication. It was the same as when I gave up train spotting – that was because the real trains were all replaced by faceless maggot trains that looked like a set of carriages running with no engine, all windows were sealed so you couldn’t poke your head out, we weren’t allowed to ride in the guards’ vans any more and all this was long before the smoking ban. It just stopped being fun so I stopped doing it. The smoking ban’s extension to many stations just means I’ll never go back to it.

So it was with those three ex-smokers. They don’t care if you smoke near them, they don’t feel threatened and they don’t hate the smell. They just don’t want to do it any more.

I can also think of three lifelong non-smoking non-drinkers who are all dead now at ages less than my current age (in one case, far less). One died of a brain haemorrhage, one of a heart attack and one of cancer. All were in high-stress jobs, as was I, and working fit to bust, as was I at that time. The heart attack and the brain haemorrage were the reason I thought ‘Whoa, I’m slowing down at work, sod it’. The cancer death came later and was a real surprise. The guy was very, very fit and healthy.

I know some ex-smokers who became antismoking (born-again nonsmokers) but in each and every case, they did not really want to stop. Cost, pressure from family, pressure from the NHS… all but one is dead now. All from cancer.

As a certain minority is fond of saying, ‘Smoke, drink tea, relax’.

I just don’t follow that advice by saying ‘Ras Tafari’ because I don’t have dreadlocks and don’t smoke quite the same rollup contents.

(Firefox updated, spellcheck isn’t working and Whyte and Mackay was on special offer so please excuse any typos.)

21 thoughts on “Chill, and lower the risk of lumps.

  1. Have to agree with you, I am firmly convinced my cancer was triggered by my husband’s sudden accidental death in front of me. My immune system collapsed and I was constantly ill for about six months. Another friend was fine until his daughter’s suicide then he developed cancer within a year. So far, after surgery we are both fine 3 and 4 years later and it will be interesting to see what happens as neither of us are stresssed now. Another things is when long term smokers give up suddenly and easily they often develop cancer or some other serious illness soon after.


    • It seems to be that sudden stop that causes problems. Oddly, doctors recommend that alcoholics cut down gradually to avoid the shock to the system of the sudden change, but they try to get smokers to stop all at once.

      It’s probably because they don’t (yet) have booze-patches to sell.


  2. There is an interesting article on this I found: ‘smoking out the facts’ in on October 28th. 2007 by the Ottawa Citizen speculating on the possible reasons, made sense to me.


  3. Couldn’t agree with you more. Stress is the 800 pound Gorilla in the room that nobody wants to talk about because nobody knows what to do about it.


    • I often wonder whether health warnings, especially the gruesome, hypochondria-inducing kind, may be harm-inducing, viz ‘nocebo’ – ‘a harmless substance that when taken by a patient is associated with harmful effects due to negative expectations or the psychological condition of the patient’. (Merriam Webster)


      • I would certainly think so, lleweton, though I think you would probably have to believe the warnings were true.
        I particularly worry about the subliminal effect on people who work on the cigarette counter.

        is the nocebo effect killing our smokers?

        New Scientist has covered it

        Warning: harmful

        “Taking the nocebo effect in “Heal thyself” (27 August, p 32) further; if believing a drug is harmful or has side effects can cause a person to suffer those side effects, then is it likely to be the case that the warnings and graphic pictures on cigarette packets will also have a nocebo effect?

        While the pictures may deter some smokers, could they increase the incidence of the very diseases they set out to prevent?”
        http: //

        Not being a subscriber I have no idea what their conclusions were

        The nocebo effect: How health warnings cause health troubles

        “When patients are warned of possible pain and unpleasant side effects, it increases the likelihood that they’ll experience them. If the placebo effect—in which positive patient expectations can be therapeutic—is relatively famous and well explored, the nocebo effect is its little-known evil twin.

        In the past two decades, however, mounting evidence for the nocebo has begun to accumulate through comparisons of side effects in the placebo groups of clinical trials—side effects, in other words, that also show up in people getting no drugs at all. More recently, a handful of studies have investigated nocebos more directly, and have suggested that patients’ negative expectations may indeed increase their suffering.”
        http: //

        The nocebo effect: Wellcome Trust science writing prize essay
        http: //


        • Thank you very much for these references, Rose. I’m glad people are looking at the nocebo issue. I did not know that. Actually, for myself, I don’t think it is necessary for one to believe firmly that tobacco WILL induce a disease, for it to do so. The warnings will induce the thought that it might. That is enough to create a sense of dis-ease and bring on anxieties, maybe depression;one could go on. I speak from experience, Is this covered, one wonders, by theorists in medical ethics?


  4. I remember reading an Indian study a few years ago. They looked at lung cancer rates in people who had quit. The numbers were quite alarming: some 58% of quitters contracted LC within 50 months of quitting.

    Had those people continued to smoke, their odds of contracting LC would have remained at 2.6%.

    I presume the stress you discuss here had a lot to do with the high incidence of LC. Because I am a bear of very little brain, I disremember the finer details.

    Mr Google will find the link for you. I lost it during a laptop swap.



    • Quitters finish first

      Health warning: giving up smoking can kill

      “The danger of cigarettes is mostly not in smoking them, argues a study by three doctors at the KS Hegde Medical Academy in Mangalore, India.”

      “The striking direct statistical correlation between cessation of smoking to the development of lung malignancies, more than 60% plus, is too glaring to be dismissed as coincidental.”

      Many Lung Cancer Patients Stopped Smoking Years Before Diagnosis

      “July 14, 2010 (Los Angeles, California) — Much of what people think they know about smoking and lung cancer might be wrong, according to findings presented here at the 11th International Lung Cancer Conference.

      For example, many if not most patients with a history of smoking quit decades before. In a retrospective study of 626 people with lung cancer treated at a tertiary-care facility in Southern California, 482 (77%) had a history of smoking. Of those, only 71 patients (14.7%) were still smoking at the time of their diagnosis. Of the remaining 411 patients, 245 (60%) had not smoked for a mean of 18 years, 8 of whom had quit 51 to 60 years earlier. The other 166 (40%) had stopped smoking within 10 years of their diagnosis.

      “Sixty percent of our cohort developed lung cancer despite doing the right thing by stopping smoking over 1 decade ago,” according to the researchers.

      These findings contradict the popular perception that most people with lung cancer are ongoing smokers who did not kick the habit until cancer symptoms appeared, the researchers note”

      “In 1995, California passed one of the first antismoking laws in the nation when it banned smoking in enclosed workspaces. This might have encouraged more people to quit smoking than in other parts of the country and might help account for the preponderance of patients in the earlier stages of cancer.”

      http: //

      The Indian doctors believe that the healing processes go into overdrive when people stop smoking, but more recent research suggests that people who quit suffer systemic inflammation.
      Which, though I am not qualified to even have an opinion, seems at least in part, due to the sudden withdrawal of the inhaled carbon monoxide.

      An avalanche of references to the fairly recent discoveries on the anti-inflammatory properties of low dose inhaled carbon monoxide on request.


  5. My poor dad got cancer after he’d given up smoking (not lung cancer). I believe I know exactly when he got it too. It was the Saturday evening when a huge rat (a nasty bitey, smelly fucker, it was) got into my basement flat (I lived alone). He came round and killed it with a bit of scaffolding pole but he sobbed and heaved whilst he did it (really weird, I caught it under my foot – the whole thing played out in slow motion – I knew I was going step on the rat as soon as I saw it running toward me. Dad smashed its brains out whilst it squirmed under my slippered foot). Dad had never used violence toward any living creature before that night (he was a gentle giant). I believe the appalling shock and stress (dis-ease) he experienced that evening left him vulnerable to it.

    He actually beat it too but caught MRSA in the hospital whilst getting over the last of this treatment. He died after spending a week unconscious in intensive care, is lungs were being gradually shredded by the higher levels of oxygen they were having to give him to keep him alive. The moment he died was uber-strange, too – mum and I sat next to him as they turned off his machines, holding his hand. They left us alone with him but suddently his bed started to radiate intense heat and started jerking up and down. Mum and I were scared somthing had gone wrong with the equipment and I ran to get a nurse, but it ceased as soon as we got in the room and after checking him she told us that dad had, in fact, died. From start to finish, he was gone in a little under a year.

    Within months of this death 3 of his best friends had also been diagnosed with types of cancer (they’d ALL given up smoking) and they died too.

    I really don’t need some puckered arse faced Anti-smoker telling me smoking causes cancer, the experience of my life tells me otherwise.


  6. I am following my own case with interest as I intend to keep smoking and enjoying a few glasses of red wine and see what happens. I have tried to find out on the LC site Inspire but so few people will admit to still smoking it is hard to know. That said there is one still smoker who is a 10 year survivor of stage 4 LC. I do feel sorry for the ones who are beating themselves up because they can’t stop and are constantly being lectured by Drs. some even threatened with being refused surgery if they don’t stop. As if they didn’t have enough stress..


    • XX cherie79 commented on Chill, and lower the risk of lumps..

      and are constantly being lectured by Drs. some even threatened with being refused surgery if they don’t stop. XX

      Does not happen here (Germany). Just last week, I had a blood test. The Doctor (A woman) simply said, “that could be due to too much beer.”

      That was it!

      No “GIVE UP NOW!!”, no “CUT DOWN!”, nothing of the sort. Just a statement.


      • My own Drs. are fine, not that I would put up with it anyway but some are dreadful. I lived in then West Germany for three years 1979 – 82, really liked it and very good health system.


  7. Professor Hans Eysenck wrote about extensively stress being a major cause of cancer. In particular the book he wrote before his death in 1997. Available online for free at:

    BTW the only person to die of lung cancer that I’ve known personally was fine when he gave up a lifetimes cigarette smoking habit. But he was diagnosed 2 or 3 years later and died a further year after that at the age of 69.

    This is also interesting, from the comments in :

    “Carcinogenicity studies of inhaled cigarette smoke in laboratory animals: old and new”
    S.S. Hecht, Carcinogenesis 2005 26(9):1488
    [p.1489]…The animals were exposed for 5 months, then allowed a 4 month recovery period…. The increases in tumor multiplicity were generally small, from ~1 tumor per mouse to ~2.8, following exposure to 50-170 mg/m3 of total suspended particulates. The increase in tumor multiplicity observed in this model was due to a component of the gas phase of tobacco smoke….The 4-month recovery period is absolutely necessary for observation of increased lung tumor multiplicity, but the reason for this is not clear.


      • Basically the message is “Starting smoking isn’t particularly smart, but if you did start then don’t ever stop; cut down to a low level but DO NOT stop smoking”.


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