Does a Positive Mental and Emotional Outlook Improve Cancer Survival? – Questioning a Study Which Said It Doesn’t

Mar 27, 2009 by

Does a Positive Mental and Emotional Outlook Improve Cancer Survival? – Questioning a Study Which Said It Doesn’t

There has been research which has shown that positive mental and emotional attitudes and states can help to improve cancer survival. A University of Pennsylvania study, however, found that they don’t.

Subsequently, the findings of that study was splashed all over mainstream news sources as conclusive proof that positive emotions and outlooks don’t help. Yet, there are shortcomings with that study which should throw its findings into serious doubt, as explored in the following article.

As far as I’m concerned, optimism and positive attitudes help prevent, fight and defeat cancer, no doubt about it.

Effects of Positive Emotional Outlook on Cancer Survival

by Reuben Chow

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 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.

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  1. Elba Bousono

    I think that most are confused about “positive attidtude”. People that have cancer and have a positive attitude are not because they feel they have a better chance of survival. I think they don’t want their family members and friends to see them suffer. It is wrong for them to be positive for that reason, especially if they bottle their true feelings. However, some do continue their daily routine with a positive outlook. These people have found acceptance and decide to keep going. It may not help cure their cancer, but maintaining a positive outlook helps them deal with their daily living.

  2. Laurie

    And then there is another category of people who are diagnosed with cancer….the ones who believe they will get well by the power of belief alone. There are many of them–they just don’t participate in research studies. They are too busy taking back their power to change their lives for the better and happy to have another chance to do it. Having cancer and a victim mentality is a sure way to die.

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