Being spiritual can help cancer patients improve their physical, mental and social well being, finds new research. The three-part analysis found a strong association between spirituality and cancer patients' health.
In the first part, a team of US researchers focused on physical health. Patients reporting greater overall religiousness and spirituality also reported better physical health, greater ability to perform daily tasks and fewer physical symptoms of cancer and treatment.
“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,” explained lead study author Heather Jim from the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida.
Dr Jim noted that patients who reported greater cognitive aspects of religion and spirituality, such as the ability to integrate the cancer into their religious or spiritual beliefs, also reported better physical health.
In the second analysis, the researchers examined patients' mental health.
The team discovered that the emotional aspects of religion and spirituality were more strongly associated with positive mental health than behavioural or cognitive aspects of religion and spirituality.
“Spiritual well being was associated with less anxiety, depression or distress,” noted lead study author John Salsman from Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago in the paper published in a peer-reviewed journal CANCER.
The third analysis pertained to social health, or patients' capacity to retain social roles and relationships in the face of illness.
“We found that patients with stronger spiritual well being reported better social health,” said another lead author Allen Sherman from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock.
“In contrast, those who struggled with their faith fared more poorly,” he noted.
The research provides invaluable insight into the rapidly growing area of psychosocial oncology - the role of religion and spirituality for patients and survivors managing the experience of cancer, the authors concluded.