New research indicates that cancer patients with strong religious and spiritual beliefs may benefit physically, mentally and socially from their faith as they cope with the disease.
Faith in a higher power can be an important source of strength for anyone dealing with an illness. But in a large review of all previously published studies on the topic, researchers have found that religious and spiritual cancer patients reported better physical health, less depression and anxiety and better social health than patients who have little connection to a higher power or religious community. And while those outcomes aren’t linked to a particular faith and don’t prove that religiousness or spirituality is responsible for better outcomes in cancer patients, researchers say their findings indicate that cancer patients who find comfort and strength in their faith can experience a variety of benefits.
The analysis of the previously published studies was published online in the journal Cancer, a publication of the American Cancer Society. The findings were based on the responses of more than 44,000 patients with different types of cancer to questions about their physical, mental and spiritual health. The authors of the large meta-analysis say in a press release that it’s the most comprehensive examination of the role of religion and spirituality in cancer patients to date.
In the analysis of the link between religious beliefs and physical health in cancer patients, the researchers found that religious or spiritual cancer patients reported better physical health, fewer physical symptoms and greater ability to perform daily tasks. When the researchers looked at studies on the mental health of religious and spiritual cancer patients, they found that the patients with stronger spiritual well-being were less anxious and depressed about their condition than those disconnected from a religious community. And when they analyzed studies on religious and spiritual involvement and social health, they found that cancer patients with a stronger spiritual well-being and belief in a benign God were better able to maintain relationships and social roles after their diagnosis.
Dr. Heather Jim of the Moffitt Cancer Center, one of the researchers who looked at the impact of spirituality on physical health, explains to Reuters that the associations they found had less to do with the practice of religion – such as praying and going to church – than with a sense of being connected to something larger than oneself and an ability to integrate their diagnosis into their beliefs.
“Cancer patients who reported higher meaning, purpose, and spiritual connection in life … reported better physical health, as did patients who reported more positive religious or spiritual explanations for the cancer,” Jim tells the news agency.
Jim notes, however, that there could be other explanations. For example, she says, the religious or spiritual cancer patients might have benefited from a healthier lifestyle and from the social and emotional support offered by a religious community. And she is quick to point out that while the more religious or spiritual patients reported better physical health, that doesn’t meant cancer patients should be forced to adopt religious or spiritual beliefs.
“Patients who are not religious or spiritual can also experience good health outcomes,” she tells Reuters.
By Chris Dall
Original article: http://www.uhc.com/bmtn-categories/bmtn-news/2015/08/14/study-religious-cancer-patients-report-better-physical-mental-and-social-health