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Effects of Positive Emotional Outlook on Cancer Survival

Sunday, November 02, 2008 by: Reuben Chow
Tags: cancer survival, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) Many of us think that a positive emotional and mental outlook can help to improve one's chances of defeating cancer as well as other dangerous diseases. But is there concrete evidence to support such an assertion? Does a bright outlook really improve cancer survival? Not according to a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania and published in 2007, which supposedly found that people with a positive outlook about their cancer did not survive better than those who were depressed about their cancer.

Details and Findings of Pennsylvania Study

Dr James Coyne and his team had examined data from two studies on the emotional states of 1,093 head and neck cancer patients. During their treatment, the patients had filled out a quality of life questionnaire which assessed their emotional states.

By the time the two studies had ended, 646 of the patients had passed on.

What the study team had apparently found, was that there was no connection between emotional state and survival rate, even after factors such as gender, cancer location and stage of disease were taken into account.

"The hope that we can fight cancer by influencing emotional states appears to have been misplaced," said Coyne. "If cancer patients want psychotherapy or to be in a support group, they should be given the opportunity to do so. There can be lots of emotional and social benefits. But they should not seek such experiences solely on the expectation that they are extending their lives."

Dismissing the Importance and Usefulness of a Positive Emotional Outlook

Conduct a search on Google using keyword terms such as "attitude", "cancer survival" and "study" and the above mentioned study is splashed across many top news and medical websites, with headlines such as "Cancer survival not linked to a positive attitude", "Study shows positive thinking by patient has no impact on surviving cancer", "Positive attitude does little to boost cancer survival odds, study says", "Emotions do not affect cancer survival: study", and "Study: attitude can't overcome cancer".

In these reports, as well as many others, the study led by Coyne is quoted as some sort of authoritative, definitive and conclusive evidence that a positive outlook and attitude does not help with cancer survival.

What's more, it has even led some parties to conclude that any form of work or therapy to improve the emotional outlook of cancer patients is a waste of time, and that time and money used on them should be removed in favor of other supposedly "effective" treatments.

All this seemed pardon the pun a little depressing.

Shortcomings of Pennsylvania Study

While much of the media has gone out and reported the findings of the study as fact, thankfully, there are those like John M. Grohol, Psy.D, the CEO and publisher of Psychcentral.com, who have actually looked at the study report and questioned some of its premises and methodology.

On his website, Dr Grohol states that the main measure used in the study to assess quality of life in cancer patients was the FACT-G. This measure was first published in 1993 and revised in 1995 and contains, according to Grohol, "a whole 6 questions".

Basically, Grohol's point is that 6 questions is woefully short for measuring a person's entire outlook and attitude towards life and cancer treatment, as well as his or her emotional wellbeing.

According to Grohol, there is no existing scale measuring psychological mental health or emotional wellbeing which only contains 6 questions, simply because such a scale would be way too shallow in its focus.

Emotional wellbeing is a complex issue, and Grohol says that even well-regarded scales for specific components of it usually contain more than 20 questions. He adds that whole books have been written about optimism as well as the science behind one's sense of wellbeing, and doing justice to this complicated concept should not be taken lightly.

The other issue with the Pennsylvania study is that it only measured the emotional states of the patients at one point in time. According to Grohol, "mood is well-known to be a variable, ever-changing component, especially during something like cancer treatment".

Taking Findings and Conclusions of Studies with a Pinch of Salt

It can be quite alarming how certain sweeping conclusions can be made when they are standing on such flimsy ground. Huge and conclusive headlines take root and become fact in the human mind, especially for those who do not question or find out more about the topics.

And the conclusions and headlines brought about by this study can be potentially quite damaging. Imagine cancer patients not bothering about being more positive because they have the impression that it would not make a difference anyway.

Maintaining a Positive Emotional Outlook

In the meantime, there is sufficient evidence elsewhere that maintaining a positive emotional outlook is beneficial for cancer patients, in more ways than one.

And, even without supposed empirical evidence, many of those in the natural health community are already convinced that a better chance of survival is one of those benefits.

So, do your best to keep your spirits up. It's definitely worth it.

Main Sources

Various news and medical websites

The Story Behind Whether Attitude Helps Cancer Survival Rates (http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2007/1...)

About the author

Reuben Chow has a keen interest in natural health and healing as well as personal growth. His website, All 4 Natural Health, offers a basic guide on natural health information. It details simple, effective and natural ways, such as the use of nutrition, various herbs, herb remedies, supplements and other natural remedies, to deal with various health conditions as well as to attain good health. His other websites also cover topics such as depression help, omega 3 fatty acids, as well as cancer research and information.

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