Although the leading cause of death in adults today is heart-related problems, the fear of developing any type of cancer is much more widespread throughout the population.

One of the main reasons can be found in the cancerous diseases that are irremediably associated with an image of extremely high suffering and anguish. This fact has led to the development of a variety of specific phobia known as: carcinophobia .

What is carcinophobia?

As we have always specified in articles describing some type of specific phobia, a normative or habitual fear does not have the same clinical significance as a phobic fear, and there are many substantial differences between the two.

In the specific case of carcinophobia, this forms part of anxiety disorders and consists of experiencing an excessive, irrational and uncontrollable fear of suffering or developing some type of cancer .

This fear of developing a cancer-type disease can be considered a type of specific hypochondria , in which the only conditions the person fears are those characterized by the appearance of tumors or carcinomas.

Comparison with other fears

It is necessary to specify that experiencing feelings of fear and dread at the possibility of developing are completely natural. As we commented, the fact that this is an illness with such a traumatic and painful development and course (both on a physical and psychological level), makes each and every one of the cases very striking, creating a feeling of omnipresence.

Although it is true that the cases of cancer have increased dramatically in recent years and that most people have experienced some case close to home, carcinophobia is an exaggerated reaction to this fact, since turns a normal fear into an excessive one , with the consequent effects on daily life that this causes.

The phobic fear that characterizes carcinophobia, and all specific anxiety disorders, is distinguished by being absolutely disproportionate and exaggerated, as well as irrational and permanent over time.

In addition, in cases of carcinophobia the person tends to associate any symptom or discomfort experienced with the appearance of some type of cancer , thus encouraging a state of continuous anxiety and carrying out information-seeking behaviours to reinforce their suspicions.

Finally, compared to other types of phobias in which the anxiety reaction only appears in the presence of a stimulus or feared situation, in carcinophobia it is a constant fear since the fear is born simply from the person’s expectations, feeding a fear that intensifies even more in the presence of any cancer-related stimulus.

What symptoms do you have?

The clinical picture of carcinophobia is similar to that of the other specific phobias and its symptoms are related to the experience of serious states of anxiety. This anxious symptomatology is classified in three groups of symptoms: physical, cognitive and behavioral.

1. Physical Symptomatology

Specific anxiety disorders are characterized by increased central nervous system activity in the person experiencing it. This increase generates a great amount of changes and alterations at a physiological and organic level. These symptoms include

  • Increased heart rate.
  • Increased respiratory flow .
  • Palpitations.
  • Feeling of shortness of breath or suffocation.
  • Muscle tension .
  • Increased sweating.
  • Headaches .
  • Gastric alterations.
  • Dizziness or feeling of dizziness.
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Fainting spells .

2. Cognitive symptomatology

As with other phobias, within the symptomatology of carcinophobia there is a series of beliefs or distorted thoughts about the possibilities of suffering or developing any type of cancer .

These irrational beliefs encourage the development of this phobia and are distinguished by the fact that the person makes a number of illogical associations about the causes, risk factors or symptoms of cancer.

3. Behavioral symptoms

The third group of symptoms are behavioral symptoms, which refer to all the behaviors that the person carries out to avoid (avoidance behaviors) or flee (escape behaviors) from possible situations or agents that may be potentially carcinogenic.

For example, people with carcinophobia tend to avoid smoking spaces or polluting places where toxic environmental agents that could cause cancer are present.

In the same way, these people carry out constant research with the aim of determining which foods or products can be carcinogenic, as well as continually going to the doctor or requesting continuous medical check-ups and examinations.

Is there a treatment?

In those cases in which the worry or fear of developing cancer causes great anguish in the person or interferes with the progress of their day to day life, it is highly recommended to seek psychological help.

Once the diagnosis has been made, psychological intervention can follow. In the case of phobias, cognitive-behavioral treatment has proven to be the most effective system in reducing and remitting the symptoms of phobia.

Because the central symptomatology of carcinophobia is related to cognitive aspects. It is advisable to start the treatment by means of a cognitive restructuring, thanks to which irrational beliefs and ideas are banished and the fear of cancer is relativized.

In addition, this intervention can be accompanied by systematic desensitization techniques. This technique, accompanied by training in relaxation techniques, gets the person to mentally face those situations that generate fear and anxiety.

These are just some of the treatments or interventions that a person with carcinophobia may undergo. Furthermore, it is also advisable to get information from an oncology professional in order to avoid myths and false beliefs about cancer.