How Spirituality Affects the Physical, Mental and Social Well-being of People Going through Cancer

How Spirituality Affects the Physical, Mental and Social Well-being of People Going through Cancer

Spirituality and religiousness play a key role in the health and well-being of cancer patients.


According to a new study, spirituality plays a key role in the health and well-being of patients going through cancer. In this particular study, published in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, published studies on cancer were thoroughly analyzed, which included the data from 44,000 patients. The study gave new insight into how spirituality and religion plays a key role in the overall well-being of cancer patients.

Physical Health

In patients with deeper spirituality and religiousness, enhanced physical health and a better ability to perform daily tasks, was reported. Additionally, the experience of less physical symptoms of cancer and side effects from treatment was apparent. Dr. Heather Jim, PhD, of the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa (and the study’s lead author) says, "These relationships were particularly strong in patients who experienced greater emotional aspects of religion and spirituality, including a sense of meaning and purpose in life as well as a connection to a source larger than oneself." Dr. Jim also added that patients who were able to integrate the cancer into their religious or spiritual beliefs, reported heightened physical health.

Mental Health

Emotional aspect of religion and spirituality in patients were strongly linked with positive mental health (more than behavioral or cognitive aspects of religion and spirituality). "Spiritual well-being was, unsurprisingly, associated with less anxiety, depression, or distress," says John Salsman, PhD, who conducted the research at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. "Also, greater levels of spiritual distress and a sense of disconnectedness with God or a religious community was associated with greater psychological distress or poorer emotional well-being," Dr. Salsman added.

Social Health

Social health is a patient’s ability to engage in and retain social relationships during their illness. Religion and spirituality had smaller links to social health, but still worth mentioning. Lead author Allen Sherman, PhD, of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, said, "When we took a closer look, we found that patients with stronger spiritual well-being, more benign images of God (such as perceptions of a benevolent rather than an angry or distant God), or stronger beliefs (such as convictions that a personal God can be called upon for assistance) reported better social health... In contrast, those who struggled with their faith fared more poorly."

Although much research has been done on the impact of religion and spirituality on cancer patients' well-being, none have taken such an in-depth analysis of the data and information we now have. "To date, this series of meta-analyses represents the most comprehensive summary and synthesis of a rapidly growing area of psychosocial oncology: the role of religion and spirituality for patients and survivors managing the experience of cancer," stated Dr. Salsman.

"...some patients struggle with the religious or spiritual significance of their cancer, which is normal. How they resolve their struggle may impact their health, but more research is needed to better understand and support these patients," said Dr. Jim.

All new findings are worth exploring when it comes to the health of people going through cancer to create more effective and well-rounded support overall.

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