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

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, 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. Seeking out the help of a spiritual advisor and support network to keep a positive outlook is extremely important and beneficial. And it’s definitely worth it.

Main Sources

Various news and medical websites

The Story Behind Whether Attitude Helps Cancer Survival Rates (

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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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