Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD

I’m Constantly Worried I Have Cancer. Do I Have OCD?

4 min read
Dr. Keara Valentine

From time to time, it’s normal to worry about having cancer or any other illness. Many people wonder if they are sick or ill somewhat regularly, especially after an unexpected changes in how we feel or random twinge of pain. However, if your thoughts of having cancer are impacting your day-to-day activities, it may be a sign that you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

why do i worry about having cancer? Do i have ocd?

What is OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) affects people from all walks of life. It occurs when someone is triggered through a cycle of obsessions, which are unwanted thoughts or urges, that leads to compulsions, behaviors that are carried out in an attempt to get rid of the obsession or decrease any stress or anxiety you might be feeling about it.

Like worrying about having cancer, most people have some level of these thoughts and behaviors during their lifetime. However, when the cycle of obsessions and compulsions becomes extreme and affects daily life, it may be a sign of something more serious like OCD or hypochondriasis

Is it hypochondriasis (Illness Anxiety Disorder) or OCD?

When you’re constantly worried that you might have cancer, there’s a possibility that it could be a sign of OCD or illness anxiety disorder. What are the differences between OCD and Illness Anxiety Disorder, and how can you tell if you have one or the other?  

A hypochondriac, someone who has illness anxiety disorder, focuses on physical sensations and worries excessively that they have a serious or life-threatening illness. For example, they may worry that any kind of headache is a brain tumor, or that a single sneeze could be a deadly allergic reaction. The constant health worries can interfere with careers, relationships and day-to-day activities. 

Unlike a hypochondriac, someone with OCD typically doesn’t have physical symptoms or “proof” to validate their obsessions. They fear getting a disease rather than fearing they have a disease, and this fear can take its toll on everyday life. They may spend hours googling certain diseases to see if they have them or to find reassurance that they don’t. They might rely on statistics to rule out diseases or obsess about obscure symptoms to confirm or dispute their worst fears. 

While there are key differences between illness anxiety disorder and OCD, there are also ways the two are similar beyond the daily impact on life. Both enact compulsions of some kind, such as constantly going to the doctor, seeking reassurance from others or WebMD-ing their symptoms. These things are all done to try to reduce anxiety about the obsession. 

Do these symptoms sound familiar? Learn how you can overcome them.

As an OCD specialist, I know how overwhelming health concern OCD symptoms can be—especially when they’re focused on something as serious as cancer. You’re not on your own, and you can talk to a specialist like me who has experience treating health concern OCD.

Learn more

Seeking treatment

If you find yourself constantly worried about having cancer, it’s possible that you may have OCD. To be certain, it’s best to find a therapist to receive a diagnosis. Once you’re diagnosed, your therapist will determine the best treatment option for your individual situation, and one of those options is exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy.

ERP is known as the gold standard of OCD treatment, and studies have shown that it is the most effective way to treat OCD. ERP helps people learn how to identify and cope with their triggers, and it allows you to be guided through exposure to your obsessions to present an opportunity to work on preventing a compulsive or ritualistic response in a safe and controlled environment. As the exposure is repeated, you’ll learn how to not act on the compulsion, and over time, the obsession will start to weaken.

If you’re experiencing obsessive thoughts about having cancer that are interfering with your daily life, help is available. The best news is that this can all be done from the comfort of your home — NOCD offers video therapy in all 50 states and outside the US, and virtual ERP can be even more effective than in-person treatment, according to research. Once you begin treatment, you can be well on your way to living a life free of your fears.

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Dr. Keara Valentine

Dr. Keara Valentine specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy and other evidence-based treatments for anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety, panic, and depression. She is also a Clinical Assistant Professor within the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, providing psychotherapy in the mood, anxiety, and OCD clinics and participating in research on novel OCD and Hoarding Disorder treatments.

Patrick McGrath, PhD

Dr. McGrath is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and the Chief Clinical Officer at NOCD. He is a member of the Scientific and Clinical Advisory Boards of the International OCD Foundation, a Fellow of the Association for Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies, and the author of "The OCD Answer Book" and "Don't Try Harder, Try Different."

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Taylor Newendorp

Taylor Newendorp

Network Clinical Training Director

I started as a therapist over 14 years ago, working in different mental health environments. Many people with OCD that weren't being treated for it crossed my path and weren't getting better. I decided that I wanted to help people with OCD, so I became an OCD therapist, and eventually, a clinical supervisor. I treated people using Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) and saw people get better day in and day out. I continue to use ERP because nothing is more effective in treating OCD.

Madina Alam

Madina Alam

Director of Therapist Engagement

When I started treating OCD, I quickly realized how much this type of work means to me because I had to learn how to be okay with discomfort and uncertainty myself. I’ve been practicing as a licensed therapist since 2016. My graduate work is in mental health counseling, and I use Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy because it’s the gold standard of OCD treatment.

Andrew Moeller

Andrew Moeller

Licensed Therapy, LMHC

I've been a licensed counselor since 2013, having run my private practice with a steady influx of OCD cases for several years. Out of all the approaches to OCD treatment that I've used, I find Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy to be the most effective. ERP goes beyond other methods and tackles the problem head-on. By using ERP in our sessions, you can look forward to better days ahead.

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