Effects of Spirituality on Cancer Patients

Cancer remains one of the top public health threats around the world. In the U.S. alone, 1.5 million new cancer cases were diagnosed in 2009, according to American Cancer Society. While new treatments continue to improve the lives of millions of cancer patients, many people are also turning to traditional sources of care giving: faith and spirituality. Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) considers spirituality a major benefit for cancer patients, not only to connect with meaning during difficult times, but also to improve the day-to-day life of cancer patients.

Increased Well Being

Many caregivers recognize the importance of “spiritual coping” for terminal cancer patients, which is any way patients make sense of their illnesses to find hope and purpose in their lives. However, spiritual coping can be valuable for non-terminal cancers too. The National Cancer Institute suggests that spirituality increases well-being in patients. Incorporating spiritual practices or time for spiritual reflection can decrease depression and anxiety, and increase the quality of life for those going through painful or exhausting cancer treatments.

Improved Pain Management

Ann Berger, M.D., a researcher with the National Institutes of Health, suggests that coping with chronic pain has more to do with the “meaning of being” than anything else. She defines meaning of being as a “Reason to live, purpose of life, why you’re here. For chronic pain patients, we find that dealing with those questions is what helps you ultimately heal.” By addressing these core life questions, pain is perceived as more manageable.

Enhanced Community Support

Spirituality typically does not happen in a vacuum. Communities as well as deeper connections to friends, relatives, and caregivers, naturally form when spirituality becomes a component of treatment. Attending church, wellness circles, dream groups, and sacred literature meetings all provide social and mental stimulation. Spiritual prayer or gratitude practices can lift the mood of caregivers as they are invited to connect to their own “meaning of being” questions.

Increased Lifespan

The National Cancer Institute suggests spirituality may increase the lifespan of terminal cancer patients. Patients live longer because they have reasons to live. Christina M. Puchalski, MD, a researcher with the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health, notes that, in general, spirituality can enhance recovery from illness and surgery. Also, Puchalski suggests that increased life spans in people who have a spiritual practice may be due to their lower levels of interleukins, specialized proteins in the blood that are associated with the presence of disease. People who regularly go to church are half as likely to have elevated levels of interleukins as non-church goers.

About this Author

Ryan Hurd is a writer and consciousness studies researcher living in California. His dream expertise has been featured in the Huffington Post and Psychology Today. Hurd has a MA in Consciousness Studies, and is the author of “Enhance your dream life.”