An extensive review of previous studies regarding cancer patients reveals that there are significant associations between the state of their mental and physical health, and their religious and spiritual beliefs, says Wiley. The findings were announced on August 10, 2015, and were published in Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.
Researchers analyzed all published studies on this topic which included more than 44,000 patients. Researchers found a wide variety of results among studies about how different aspects of spirituality and religion impacted the health of cancer patients. The first analysis focused on their physical health. Patients who reported more religiousness and spirituality reported better physical health, were more ability to perform everyday tasks, and had fewer symptoms from the treatment or the cancer.
“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,” said lead author Heather Jim, PhD, of the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.
The researchers also found a stronger association between positive mental health and the emotional aspects of religion and spirituality than with the cognitive aspects. “Spiritual well-being was, unsurprisingly, associated with less anxiety, depression, or distress,” said lead author John Salsman, PhD, who conducted the research at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and currently works at the Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem. “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.”
An analysis was also done of the patients’ abilities to maintain relationships and social roles while having cancer. “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,” said lead author Allen Sherman, PhD, of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock. “In contrast, those who struggled with their faith fared more poorly.”
“In addition, some patients struggle with the religious or spiritual significance of their cancer, which is normal,” Dr. Jim said. “How they resolve their struggle may impact their health, but more research is needed to better understand and support these patients.”