How Do Dreams Predicting Illness, such as Cancer or Tumors, Get Produced?

Dreams predicting illness is somewhat of a common phenomenon. Many people have had dreams where in the dream they become aware of a tumor, some form of cancer, or warnings of a stroke and it turns out to be a reality. Often it is attributed to some form of psychic ability or some outside force or presence i.e. guardian angel, etc.

However in this article, I will show that there is a very high probability that there is a physiological or neuroscientific reason behind the ‘dreams predicting illness’ phenomenon.

My theory is that the central and peripheral nervous systems relay information to the part of the brain which holds a complete body map or image of each individual dreamer. This complete body image is in the right hemisphere of the brain which for the most part is unconscious memory.

The ‘tumor’ or disease would be picked up as an anomaly, then sent to the body image map as an update. Then, this updated body map would be matched up to memory in the brain which holds factual memories on what tumors, etc., mean on the outside world. One of the characteristics of dreams is that they select anomalies which have been detected in the dreamer’s environment. These anomalies are woven into the dream content to transfer the information to the conscious side of the mind located in the brain’s left hemisphere. This anomaly detection is part of the natural survival mechanism which is one of the purposes of the dream mechanism. So, dreams predicting illness would be the body’s and brain’s way of warning the dreamer that their survival is at stake.

The Nervous System

There are three main parts to the nervous system 1) The Central Nervous System (CNS) which is comprised of the brain and the spinal cord. 2) Then, the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS) which is a set of 31 pairs of nerves connected from the spine which extend out to the entire body.

Dreams predicting illness

Central Nervous System


dreams predicting illness a neuroscientific explanation

Peripheral Nervous System







The peripheral nervous system is divided into several types, the two main peripheral systems being 2a) the “somatic nervous system” which controls voluntary actions transmitting signals to move muscles; actions such as running, lifting and reaching; and, 2b) the “sensory nervous system” which transmits sensory information from the nerve ends in the body to the brain. It is the sensory nerves which will play the part of reporting the presence of a tumor or disease developing in a particular nerve’s area of coverage.

3) The third set of nerves are the “autonomic nervous system” which is self-regulating which influences the functions of organs which we have little or no voluntary control over, such as the digestive system.

How does the warning get placed into a dream?

The nerves around the tumor or diseased area will sense something unusual, either pressure, a loss of communication from nerves, or a strange unknown sensation – something abnormal causing a signal to be transmitted to the spinal tract which passes it through the brainstem to the “thalamus’. The thalamus sorts and adapts the incoming signals.

The thalamus sorts body map updates to the body map area of the cortex.

The thalamus (top portion) sorts sensory signals coming from the body to certain parts of the cortex.

Per Wikipedia, “the thalamus has multiple functions. It may be thought of as a kind of hub of information. It is generally believed to act as a relay between different subcortical areas and the cerebral cortex.[12] In particular, every sensory system (with the exception of the olfactory system) includes a thalamic nucleus that receives sensory signals and sends them to the associated primary cortical area.”

Therefore, I will assume the anomaly in the body will get updated to the cortical area in the right hemisphere that contains the image of the “body map” which is part of the unconscious, therefore, will not be brought into conscious attention.

The body mapping is a continuously evolving phenomenon and takes place at night during the dreaming process.


Allan Hobson’s Thoughts on Brain’s Mapmaking Process

Now I must use the work of Allan Hobson, the man I completely trashed as the villain in my last article “Neuroscience vs. Psychoanalysis”.

Verbatim from Andrea Rock’s book “The Mind at Night” is Allan Hobson theory on body mapping:

“Alan Hobson contends that dreaming plays a crucial role in the formation of these vital internal maps of our bodies and the world we must navigate. To be useful, the representations in the brain must match external reality with a high degree of fidelity. “As soon as possible, the brain creates a copy of the world that it uses in all its comparative work so that it can predict what you’re going to see without having to reinvent the world in every instant of visual experience.“ Hobson suggests that the massive amount of REM sleep that we experience in the womb and as infants is part of the mapmaking process. The models must be updated and elaborated in more sophisticated versions as we mature, but the revisions occur at night, off-line, he argues, “I think it all comes together in dreams. This simulacrum of the world in the brain that allows you to dream a fictive reality is used all of the time in waking, even though you’re not aware of it. Then, at night, the brain takes little bits of today’s experience, sticking this or that together with something else in memory you didn’t know it was associated with, and on comes the dream.”

Dreams Predicting Illness

This depicts how our body image maps are updated with external information, but the same process would apply for internal information being updated through the nervous systems. Therefore, the anomaly being reported, the tumor, has been updated in the body map. What we know about tumors and cancer, etc. from the external world gets matched up with the information from the “body map” which can create a dream forewarning of an impending health problem.

I have never seen another explanation for this phenomenon, other than some mystic or psychic explanation which I never felt was quite adequate. So, I thought I would make a stab at a neuroscientific approach. Of course, I cannot prove this, I will leave that to a real neuroscientist to prove or come up with a more accurate explanation.

Unfortunately, many people do not remember their dreams predicting illness or pay no attention to them. It is very likely that many people have dreams predicting illness since dreams basically behave the same way in all humans. But, because society has essentially taught us to disregard our night time dreams, millions of people have missed the opportunity to catch cancer or other diseases in early stages when treatment would have been more effective, even lifesaving.

Update to Article

7/21/17 – In subsequent reading, I came across a finding based on scientific study, Fiss 1993, that “suggests that dreams are especially good at registering subtle internal and external signals that often go undetected in waking life, making them potentially useful for picking up early signs of physical illness. ”

Fiss, H (1993). The “royal road” to the unconscious revisited: A signal detection model of dream function. In A. Moffit, M.Kramer, & R. Hoffman (Eds.), The functions of dreaming (pp. 381-418): State University of New York Press.

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CopyRight @ Very Cool Dreams Company March 30th, 2015