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An Embodied Mind Can Help Fight Cancer

The healing power of mental imagery may be considerable.

Key points

  • Each of us can be a healer, capable of improving our lives and the lives of those we love.
  • Mental imagery can activate the natural healing energies of your body.
  • Visualizations can activate the immune system and may help fight cancel
Source: Geralt/Pixabay
Head think
Source: Geralt/Pixabay

Mental imagery or visualization, is a technique that involves using the power of your imagination to create mental pictures and sensations to promote relaxation and healing. While mental imagery can be an extremely helpful complementary technique for managing stress, anxiety, and depression, reducing pain, promoting well-being, powering up the immune system, and most importantly, destroying cancer cells, it is not to be resorted to as a substitute for medical treatment, including cancer treatment.

Practising Visualization

Mental imagery may be used anywhere, anytime by a person alone or in a group as a supportive technique alongside conventional cancer treatments. There are also therapists who employ guided imagery as part of their practice.

The underlying idea of practising visualization is to create a kind of daydream with images in your mind that fit your goals.

If your objective is to help you to deal with stress and relax more, you may, for example, choose to see in your mind’s eye a serene clearing in a forest, resting on a lush carpet of green grass or, lying on a sunlit sandy beach, listening to the braking waves or, being in one of your favorite places in the world—wherever that might be.

You may imagine visualizing a healing light shining on the tumor or cancer-affected area of the body, good cells such as Pac Men (from the old video game) gobbling up bad cancer cells or watching Superman sweeping away the cancer cells with a big broom.

Scripts that work best are the ones created by you. There is no right or wrong way to do this. Experiment, be creative. I recommend immersing yourself in visualization sessions twice a day for 10 to 15 minutes after you rise and before you retire in a quiet room, reclining in a comfortable chair with your eyes shut. You may wish to play gentle background music to accompany individual or group imagery sessions to maintain a relaxed state. In case distressing or unwanted thoughts intrude during your visualization session, just push them aside and continue with your practice. Stick with it even if you find it difficult at the beginning. It will get easier.

How It Works

Mental imagery is based on the recall and recombination of memories. Recent studies in fundamental and clinical science regarding mental imagery are revealing the central role that mental imagery plays in everyday behavior, as well as in human mental function and dysfunction. Here, I shall only focus on consciously created imagery for the purpose of healing cancer.

A study from the University of Southampton concluded that guided imagery, as a sole adjuvant cancer therapy, may be psycho-supportive and increase comfort. The researchers stated that their data seemed sufficiently encouraging to support the use of guided imagery as an adjuvant cancer therapy.

One of the primary systems that respond to mental imagery is the immune system. Over the last 50 years, psychoneuroimmunology, the new science that explores how the mind affects the immune system and how the immune system affects the mind has evolved into a mainstream discipline to achieve a deep understanding of the integrative mechanisms among psychosocial factors, the nervous system, the endocrine system, and the immune system in health and disease.

B. L. Gruber at the Medical Illness Counselling Center, Chevy Chase, Maryland, reports in the Journal Biofeedback and Self-Regulation, the results of an 18-month study of the immune system and psychological changes in stage 1 breast cancer patients provided with relaxation, guided imagery, and biofeedback training. The researchers found a significant increase in natural killer cell activity, mixed lymphocyte responsiveness, concanavalin A responsiveness, and peripheral blood lymphocytes; a clear strengthening and expansion of the immune system and potentially benefitting the patients.

A recent study at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, showed that melanoma is often innervated by nerve fibers that secrete a chemical messenger. This compound, CGRP, acts on a particular type of immune cell, inhibiting its ability to fight tumors. When these nerve fibers were silenced in melanoma-bearing mice, it stopped the secretion of CGR resulting in the reduced spread and growth of melanoma, leading up to a tripling of the mice’s survival rate. This means that blocking the electrical activity of these nerve fibers allowed the immune cells to help subdue cancer.

David J. Linden, professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, wrote recently in The New York Times, Can a Neuroscientist Fight Cancer With Mere Thought? Being familiar with the study referred to above, Linden wrote, “If behavioral practices like meditation, exercise, breath work or even prayer can attenuate or reverse the progression of certain cancers (and, granted, that’s a huge if), then perhaps they do so, ultimately, by changing the electrical activity of the nerve cells that innervate tumors.” Since mental imagery has much in common biologically with meditation and prayer, I suggest that this is another way in which visualization can mobilize immune cells to help subdue cancer.

Concluding Remarks

Meditation, prayer, affirmation, and self-hypnosis like visualization have in common the conscious, willed use of the mind to focus on a desired outcome. Similarly, so do guided imagery and hypnosis though facilitated by another person you trust. Mental imagery plays a core role in many health disorders and plays an increasingly important role in their treatment. The healing power of mental imagery is considerable.

If distressing and unwanted emotional imagery should intrude during healing visualizations, they need to be eliminated before progress can be achieved.

Please keep in mind that mental imagery is not a standalone or substitute treatment for cancer. Always consult with your medical team and follow their recommended treatment plan.


Linden, David J. (2023). Can a Neuroscientist Fight Cancer With Mere Thought? New York Times.

Balood, M., Ahmadi, M., ... & Talbot, S. (2022). Nociceptor neurons affect cancer immunosurveillance. Nature, 1-8.

Dijkstra, N., Bosch, S. E., & van Gerven, M. A. (2019). Shared neural mechanisms of visual perception and imagery. Trends in cognitive sciences, 23(5), 423-434

Pearson, J., Naselaris, T., Holmes, E. A., & Kosslyn, S. M. (2015). Mental imagery: functional mechanisms and clinical applications. Trends in cognitive sciences, 19(10), 590-602.

Regardie, I. (2010). The Art of True Healing: The Unlimited Power of Prayer and Visualization. New World Library.

Roffe, L., Schmidt, K., & Ernst, E. (2005). A systematic review of guided imagery as an adjuvant cancer therapy. Psycho‐Oncology, 14(8), 607-617.

Gruber, B. L., Hersh, S. P., Hall, N. R., Waletzky, L. R., …& Weiss, S. M. (1993). Immunological responses of breast cancer patients to behavioral interventions. Biofeedback and Self-regulation, 18, 1-22.

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