Intuition in Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment
Many of us believe in the power of our intuition. Our "gut sense" that intuition is real (intuition about intuition!) received a powerful affirmation in 2005 with the publication of Malcolm Gladwell's best-selling book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.
Blink is a book about how we think without thinking, about choices that seem to be made in an instant—in the blink of an eye—that actually aren't as simple as they seem. Why are some people brilliant decision makers, while others are consistently inept? Why do some people follow their instincts and win, while others end up stumbling into error? How do our brains really work-in the office, in the classroom, in the kitchen, and in the bedroom? And why are the best decisions often those that are impossible to explain to others?
In Blink we meet the psychologist who has learned to predict whether a marriage will last, based on a few minutes of observing a couple; the tennis coach who knows when a player will double-fault before the racket even makes contact with the ball; the antiquities experts who recognize a fake at a glance.
A 2015 book review in Frontiers in Psychology concludes:1
Gladwell substantiates that “truly successful thinking relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking”, which fits with the recent current conclusions of Nordgen et al.2 BLINK is highly suitable for readers who crave to understand the complexities of human mind and decisions. Patience is a necessity and passion a prerequisite to absorb the hidden truths about your own mind while you read Blink!
In medicine, many clinicians are guided by intuition. Yet intuition gets little respect in the medical scientific literature. But if intuition is real—as many of us suspect or believe—it may have a legitimate role in health decision-making for patients as well as clinicians. It may in fact be critical.
Clinicians will often report privately that intuition is part of their armamentarium in diagnosis.3 A robust research literature on the role of intuition in professional success in many fields can be found. Intuition is particularly effective when combined with deep scientific and clinical knowledge.4
There is a significant literature on medical intuitives—like Edgar Cayce. And many medical intuitives are in practice today.
Intuition in medical decision-making is not for everyone. The potential for error and abuse with misguided intuition is high. Researchers have given both prospects careful thought. Intuition works best when cross-checked against observable evidence. In this controversial field, we can expect people to reach different conclusions.
In the blog post below, Cynthia Li, MD, a physician in private practice in Berkeley, California, describes her own experience with a medical intuitive and in developing her own intuition.
Intuition: The Lost Art of Medicine (And How to Get It Back)
Reprinted with permission from Cynthia Li, MD. The original post in on her blog: Personalized Medicine.
I used to be a total skeptic when it came to intuition. Having grown up in Texas in an evangelical community, then going through western medicine training, I would say that my “gut feeling,” if I had one, was to steer clear of any such practices.
- Adhiya K. Book review: “Blink: the power of thinking without thinking”. Frontiers in Psychology. 2015; 6: 1225.
- A sample of investigations of intuition in medical care:
- Heiniger L, Butow PN et al. Intuition versus cognition: a qualitative exploration of how women understand and manage their increased breast cancer risk. Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 2015 Oct;38(5):727-39.
- Sheth SA, Kwon CS, Barker FG 2nd. The art of management decision making: from intuition to evidence-based medicine. Otolaryngologic Clinics of North America. 2012 Apr;45(2):333-51, viii.
- Brush JE Jr, Sherbino J, Norman GR. How expert clinicians intuitively recognize a medical diagnosis. American Journal of Medicine. 2017 Jun;130(6):629-634.
- Lighthall GK, Vazquez-Guillamet C. Understanding decision making in critical care. Clinical Medicine & Research. 2015 Dec;13(3-4):156-68.
- Douw G, Schoonhoven L et al. Nurses' worry or concern and early recognition of deteriorating patients on general wards in acute care hospitals: a systematic review. Critical Care. 2015 May 20;19:230.