Carcinophobia: The Fear of Getting Cancer

Carcinophobia The Fear of Getting Cancer

Carcinophobia is the intense fear of getting cancer. This is an anxiety disorder that is common amongst people or loved ones of persons who have been diagnosed with cancer.

The knowledge or thoughts of cancer-related concepts causes distress, panic and even depression to the sufferer. This can hinder a person’s normal way of living, including the individual’s social life.

The occurrence of carcinophobia cases has significantly decreased now, unlike many years ago. This is because as of that time, knowledge and treatment of cancer were limited. Yet there are still many sufferers even till this day.

This is a social anxiety disorder that can also cause the sufferer to have agoraphobia (the fear of wide-open spaces or crowds). The individual will fear leaving his or her home because of the fear of getting cancer.

Symptoms of Carcinophobia

Sufferers of carcinophobia fears acquiring cancer so much, they frequent their visits to their doctors to ensure that they have optimal health. However, their days between those visits to their doctors, they live in fear and anxiety.

Even the mere thought of anything relating to cancer can cause them panic attacks. This is evident in the following physical and psychological symptoms.

Physical symptoms

These are the physical manifestation of carcinophobia in a sufferer’s life, and they are:

  • Shaking or trembling
  • Sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Fainting
  • Rapid breathing 
  • Crying or screaming

Psychological symptoms

These are the psychological effects of this condition in a sufferer’s life: 

  • Fear of death
  • Loss of control 
  • Confusion
  • Panic attacks
  • Inability to differentiate between what is real and unreal
  • Reclusive and obsessive over own health
  • Excess worry
  • Depression

Carcinophobics are known to go at any length to avoid cancer. They are obsessively concerned about what they eat and the products they consume. They can easily be provoked at the slightest suspicion that there is a presence of carcinogen in their home.

They tend to avoid going to any social gatherings or events because they fear that there may be carcinogens involved.

Often, they feel so overwhelmed that they find it extremely difficult to carry out their usual activities. This anxiety disorder limits their lives to a great extent. 

Causes of Carcinophobia

There is no known cause of this condition. But then, certain factors are known to contribute to the development of this fear.

Generally, many sufferers of carcinophobia have been known to have experienced a loved one suffer or die from cancer. Typically, this is like a huge trauma on them as they never want to go through that, nor do they wish to have another loved one suffer cancer again.

Cancer survivors are also likely to have this condition. This is due to the trauma they experienced as cancer sufferers. Thus, they fear that the disease may reoccur again. About fifty per cent of all cancer survivors report fear of the disease reoccurring.

Also, the media contributes to the development of this fear in some people. A heartfelt story about a child who lost his or her mother to cancer and other possible cancer-related stories can instill the fear of loss in some people and ultimately carcinophobia. 

More so, the presence of other phobias can also cause a person to have this phobia. When a person has an extreme fear of pain, loss, feeling sick, death, etc. then the person is likely to have this condition. Because by logic, cancer often comes with pain, feeling sick, loss and death. 

Children can acquire this fear from the reaction of older people such as parents, grandparents, siblings etc. to cancer. Also, children who grow with persons with this phobia is likely to have it too.

Treatment of Carcinophobia

Many sufferers of phobia feel like they do not need treatment because they can “easily” avoid being triggered. But that is easily said than done because most times we cannot escape our thoughts. Therefore, it is recommended that sufferers should get treatment as early as possible.

There is no known treatment guaranteed to cure carcinophobia. However, some intervention-approaches can help a sufferer recover. They are:


This is simply the care one gives oneself. They involve good dieting, adequate exercising, meditation, etc. This helps one to recover from mild carcinophobia.


Therapy involves consulting a mental health specialist to help you overcome your fears. Your therapist may use the following approaches:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This usually involves a laid-back talk with your therapist. Using this approach, your therapist will help you identify those unhealthy thinking patterns that cause you to fear getting cancer. With the help of your therapist, those unhealthy thinking patterns will be altered into positive ones. Also, you are provided with ways to cope with their fears. 
  • Neuro-Linguistic Programming therapy (NLP): This is a modern way of treating phobias. This therapy involves the reprogramming of the subconscious mind to change the unhealthy thinking process into healthy ones. This reduces the fear one feels about his or her source of fear. 
  • Medication: In treating anxiety and depression, psychotherapists often prescribe medications to help reduce the effects of the phobia.

Medication often prescribed are tranquillizers or anti-depressants. These drugs are not the cure to phobias, but they are prescribed to control the symptoms of phobias. 

Note: These medicines are to be used strictly by the prescription of a licensed doctor. One of the reasons is that it can cause substance use disorder (addiction and dependence) if used for a long time.

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