Religion, spirituality help patients cope better with cancer: study

17 August 2015

Research has shown that religion and spirituality could help patients cope better with the condition.

Moffitt Cancer Center's Heather Jim, PhD, and her colleagues investigated the extent of the impact of a belief in God or spirituality especially on cancer patients drawing upon numerous researches conducted on the subject and considered over 42,000 patients.

They proceeded to analyse various aspect such as physical, mental and social health and in all three those who expressed a strong connection to their God coped better with the disease.

According to the patients, they felt less pain and could more effectively cope with the symptoms and effects of treatments.

They also had the energy to carry out tasks daily and  were more likely to exhibit a more positive or upbeat attitude toward the illness and recovery, as also feel less stress.

The effect of the belief, however, could be affected by the degree and even the patient's conviction and patients reporting better outcomes had "stronger" faith, including those who understood the meaning and purpose of their lives.

On the other hand those who struggled with their faith registered poorer results.

According to Jim more research was needed in  the field, but perhaps it may be necessary for health services to look into the merit of involving spiritual or religious components in the patients' treatment.

But the type of God patients believed in also affected how they felt.

Belief in a benevolent God that answered their prayers made cancer sufferers more outgoing and able to maintain relationships, while those who viewed their illness as punishment from an angry or distant God or who had doubts over their faith fared worse.

According to researchers, further studies were needed on the long-term link between religion and health and whether health supported services should offer believers religious guidance.

Jim said some patients struggled with the religious or spiritual significance of their cancer, which was normal.

She said how they resolved their struggle might impact their health, but more research was needed to better understand and support these patients.

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