In this lecture, Dr. Michael Kerr discusses cancer from a systems perspective. He addresses the context in which cancer develops (social, emotional, relationship, and physical factors) as influencing the development of a cancer. Additionally, the basic underpinnings of Bowen theory and systems thinking that shed light on symptom development and cancer, are presented.

Dr. Kerr refers to the work of Marta Bertolaso, who wrote “Philosophy of Cancer – a Dynamic and Relational View.” She is one of the conference presenters. The entire conference may be viewed here:

Bowen theory and systems thinking was developed by Dr. Murray Bowen during the course of a research project. It is based on the assumptions that the human is a product of evolution and human behavior is significantly regulated by the same natural processes that govern all living things. Systems thinking differs from a “cause-effect” view. Systems thinking views the individual as part of a system and regulated to some degree by the family system. This theory views symptoms as arising out of a disturbance in the family relationship system, in which the individual functions in a way to adapt to the emotional environment in the system. The theory addresses basic “life forces” of togetherness and individuality important for survival. When there is an imbalance in these life sustaining needs, symptoms may be triggered.

In this video, Dr. Kerr’s discusses systems thinking and Bowen theory in connection with cancer. Dr. Kerr, who has written and spoken about cancer and Bowen theory, provides a way of thinking about cancer as a matter having more to do with the context in which it develops than the multiplication of cells. He presents a view of cancer consistent with systems biology. He suggests that looking at a broad view of the organism in relationship to the environment, provides a better way of understanding cancer, than a focus on the cancer.

Dr. Kerr draws some parallels between Bowen theory, cancer research and systems biology. He suggests there is an interaction between the cancerous cells and the environment in which both contribute to cancer’s emergence. This is where systems biology and Bowen theory meet.

Dr. Kerr cites other researchers and authors whose thinking is consistent with systems thinking and systems biology. He describes some concepts in his work on a systems model of disease which considers the level of anxiety in a family, differentiation or emotional maturity, and patterns of emotional functioning as playing out in a way that contribute to symptoms.

A systems theory of cancer involves the following according to Dr. Kerr:

  • Disturbance in family homeostasis
  • Disturbance in overall body homeostasis
  • Emotional regression fueled by chronic anxiety.

Marta Bertolaso’s work on the history of cancer presents a view of cancer and systems biology, which is in line with Bowen theory and systems thinking. She describes how the organism of the body and the cancer cells work together in her study of the history of cancer. Her book she discusses how an imbalance between cell differentiation versus state holding properties exist.

If you are interested in more information on Bowen theory and systems thinking, you will find recommended readings as well as papers written by individuals interested in Bowen theory, and additional videos on the website.

Viewers interested in systems biology, cancer and/or Bowen theory will benefit from this video.