Can a Positive Attitude or Spirituality Help You Fight Cancer?
It seems to have become ingrained in our society that any seriously ill patient, let alone a cancer patient, needs a healthy attitude or a faith-based life to fight cancer. But is it true?
While science has not provided undeniable proof of a direct medical link between the ability to fight cancer and attitude and spirituality, there is enough observable, anecdotal evidence to suggest that it helps. That’s why the subject has become such a popular notion.
So let’s take a closer look at some of the current beliefs and research surrounding this topic. Medical researchers, by their job description, need to find evidence and concrete logical connections in order to conclude that something actually helps fight cancer. However, attitude and spirituality are abstract concepts that are by their very nature difficult to observe, let alone prove. But because it is such a popular notion, researchers continue to search for some link or explanation.
Recently, the U.K.’s Daily Mail reported a five-year study that found that optimism made no difference in the outcomes of 179 lung cancer patients. Yet despite the study’s medical results, its researchers still concluded, “…being optimistic may improve quality of life. A positive attitude can help lead to healthier eating habits, stopping smoking, drinking less, exercising more and learning more about the disease and treatment options.”
Which leads us back to the initial question: Does a positive attitude or spirituality help fight cancer? The answer seems to be no…and yes.
Healthy.net posted an in-depth article that examined people’s outlooks on life and their likelihood for getting cancer. In the article, Beliefs, Attitudes, And Expectations: The Relationship Between Personality And Cancer, researchers examined a large amount of material to conclude that, “Personality characteristics of inhibition, rigidity, repression and denial, when combined with the stress of loss and depression, seem to increase vulnerability to clinical cancer.”
That leads to an obvious question: If our outlook can impact the likelihood of getting cancer, can it also play a role in our ability to fight it?
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) recognizes that patients might have spiritual needs, and that there seems to be some connection, but states that, “It is not known for sure how spirituality and religion are related to health. Some studies show that spiritual or religious beliefs and practices create a positive mental attitude that may help a patient feel better and improve the well-being of family caregivers.”
NCI also states that, “Spiritual and religious well-being may also help a patient live longer.” They suggest a number of concrete outcomes that a positive feeling of well-being can create in a cancer patient:
- Decreased anxiety, depression, anger, and discomfort
- Decreased the sense of isolation (feeling alone) and the risk of suicide
- Decreased alcohol and drug abuse
- Lowered blood pressure and risk of heart disease
- Helped patient adjust to the effects of cancer and its treatment
- Increased the ability to enjoy life during cancer treatment
- Gave feeling of personal growth as a result of living with cancer
- Increased positive feelings, including:
- Hope and optimism
- Freedom from regret
- Satisfaction with life
- A sense of inner peace
A WebMD.com article, Holistic Cancer Support and Care, discusses the need to look at the whole person. They suggest consulting six different professionals: your cancer physician, a social worker to help with practical and logistical needs, a dietician, a physical therapist, a psychologist, and a spiritual advisor. The last two experts — a psychologist and a spiritual advisor — suggest the importance of a healthy outlook and faith throughout the course of a patient’s cancer fight.
So is there a connection? That question has not yet been clearly answered. But anecdotal evidence would lead one to believe that there is.
Or perhaps that’s just our optimist’s view.