There’s an interesting summary of an article published in the journal Cancer on the Cancer Research UK website: Emotional wellbeing found to have little influence on cancer survival. In a study of more than a thousand patients with head and neck cancers they found that ’emotional wellbeing’ did not seem to extend the patients life expectancy.
Those weren’t the results most people would have expected (except perhaps hardened sceptics*). As someone who is interested in working with cancer patients and their carers to reduce the level of emotional stress they experience as a result of the illness I find this study very interesting.
On the face of it the study doesn’t look like good news for my line of work.
Participants completed a questionnaire which revealed details about their quality of life, including emotional wellbeing.A total of 646 patients died during the study and the researchers found that emotional status was not a predictor of survival, regardless of a patient’s gender or how far their cancer had progressed.
I had a look at the FACT-G scale, the survey they used to evaluate the patients wellbeing, expecting to find an extensive inventory of a persons emotional and psychological state and found just 6 questions.
That seems like a bit of a blunt instrument to explore all the psychological and emotional facets of the cancer experience. I wonder if there are other emotional/psychological factors that were not measured that do have an affect on cancer survival rates.
Dr James Coyne, professor of psychology in psychiatry at the university, said: “The belief that a patient’s psychological state can impact the course and outcome of their cancer is one that has been prominent among patients and medical professionals alike.This belief leads people to seek psychotherapy in the hopes of promoting survival.”
Dr Coyne … said that patients who want psychotherapy or to attend a support group should be given the opportunity to do so, as 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,” he insisted.
I don’t advertise my work as being able to treat cancer or extend life. My intention is to improve the quality of life of the people concerned as best I can. Let’s for a moment assume that this study is the final word (highly unlikely) and that your emotional state has no bearing on your survival times. That would be unfortunate, but not a good reason to stop offering psychological support to cancer patients.
If we could, and I think we can, reduce the level of suffering experienced by a cancer patient then that would be well worth doing in it’s own right regardless of whether it added a minute to their lives or not. In my opinion it’s the quality of life that matters and to experience some emotional wellbeing during the course of the illness whatever it’s outcome seems to me to be very worthwhile.