Spiritual and religious beliefs may benefit cancer patients’ physical and mental health, researchers say.
They conducted three reviews of all published studies on the topic, which included more than 44,000 patients. However, none of the studies were able to show a cause-and-effect relationship between spirituality and better outcomes, only an association between these factors.
Findings from the reviews were published online Aug. 10 in the journal Cancer.
The first analysis found that patients with higher levels of spirituality/religiousness reported better physical health, fewer physical symptoms of cancer and treatment, and a greater ability to do their usual daily tasks.
“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,” first review lead author Heather Jim, of the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla., said in a journal news release.
The second analysis focused on mental health.
“Spiritual well-being was, unsurprisingly, associated with less anxiety, depression, or distress,” second review lead author John Salsman, Wake Forest School of Medicine, said in the news release.
“Also, greater levels of spiritual distress and a sense of disconnectedness with God or a religious community was associated with greater psychological distress or poorer emotional well-being,” he added.
The third analysis found a link between spirituality/religion and social well-being.
“When we took a closer look, we found that patients with stronger spiritual well-being, more benign images of God (such as perceptions of a benevolent rather than an angry or distant God), or stronger beliefs (such as convictions that a personal God can be called upon for assistance) reported better social health,” third review lead author Allen Sherman, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said in the news release.
Sherman added that people who struggled with their faith seemed to fare more poorly.
“Some patients struggle with the religious or spiritual significance of their cancer, which is normal. How they resolve their struggle may impact their health, but more research is needed to better understand and support these patients,” Jim noted.
The American Cancer Society has more about coping with cancer.