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Cancer Health Center

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Spirituality in Cancer Care (PDQ®): Supportive care - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Overview


Of equal importance is the consideration of how and when to address religion and spirituality with patients and the best ways to do so in different medical environments.[29,30,31] Although addressing spiritual concerns is often considered an end-of-life issue, such concerns may arise at any time after diagnosis.[24] Acknowledging the importance of these concerns and addressing them, even briefly, at diagnosis may facilitate better adjustment throughout the course of treatment and create a context for richer dialogue later in the illness. One study of 118 patients seen in follow-up by one of four oncologists suggests that a semistructured inquiry into spiritual concerns related to coping with cancer is well accepted by patients and oncologists and is associated with positive perceptions of care and well-being.[32]

In this summary, unless otherwise stated, evidence and practice issues as they relate to adults are discussed. The evidence and application to practice related to children may differ significantly from information related to adults. When specific information about the care of children is available, it is summarized under its own heading.


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  2. Taylor H: The Religious and Other Beliefs of Americans 2003. The Harris Poll #11, February 26, 2003. Rochester, NY: Harris Interactive Inc., 2003. Available online. Last accessed April 16, 2014.
  3. Kim Y, Wellisch DK, Spillers RL, et al.: Psychological distress of female cancer caregivers: effects of type of cancer and caregivers' spirituality. Support Care Cancer 15 (12): 1367-74, 2007.
  4. Whitford HS, Olver IN, Peterson MJ: Spirituality as a core domain in the assessment of quality of life in oncology. Psychooncology 17 (11): 1121-8, 2008.
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  7. Astrow AB, Wexler A, Texeira K, et al.: Is failure to meet spiritual needs associated with cancer patients' perceptions of quality of care and their satisfaction with care? J Clin Oncol 25 (36): 5753-7, 2007.
  8. King DE, Bushwick B: Beliefs and attitudes of hospital inpatients about faith healing and prayer. J Fam Pract 39 (4): 349-52, 1994.
  9. Bowie J, Sydnor KD, Granot M: Spirituality and care of prostate cancer patients: a pilot study. J Natl Med Assoc 95 (10): 951-4, 2003.
  10. Mako C, Galek K, Poppito SR: Spiritual pain among patients with advanced cancer in palliative care. J Palliat Med 9 (5): 1106-13, 2006.
  11. Balboni TA, Vanderwerker LC, Block SD, et al.: Religiousness and spiritual support among advanced cancer patients and associations with end-of-life treatment preferences and quality of life. J Clin Oncol 25 (5): 555-60, 2007.
  12. Balboni TA, Paulk ME, Balboni MJ, et al.: Provision of spiritual care to patients with advanced cancer: associations with medical care and quality of life near death. J Clin Oncol 28 (3): 445-52, 2010.
  13. Zabora J, Blanchard CG, Smith ED, et al.: Prevalence of psychological distress among cancer patients across the disease continuum. Journal of Psychosocial Oncology 15 (2): 73-87, 1997.
  14. Fitchett G, Meyer PM, Burton LA: Spiritual care in the hospital: who requests it? Who needs it? J Pastoral Care 54 (2): 173-86, 2000 Summer.
  15. Handzo G: Where do chaplains fit in the world of cancer care? J Health Care Chaplain 4 (1-2): 29-44, 1992.
  16. Kristeller JL, Zumbrun CS, Schilling RF: 'I would if I could': how oncologists and oncology nurses address spiritual distress in cancer patients. Psychooncology 8 (5): 451-8, 1999 Sep-Oct.
  17. Puchalski C, Romer AL: Taking a spiritual history allows clinicians to understand patients more fully. J Palliat Med 3(1): 129-137, 2000.
  18. Gordon T, Mitchell D: A competency model for the assessment and delivery of spiritual care. Palliat Med 18 (7): 646-51, 2004.
  19. Pargament KI: The Psychology of Religion and Coping: Theory, Research, Practice. New York, NY: Guilford Press, 1997.
  20. Koenig HG: Spirituality in Patient Care: Why, How, When, and What. Philadelphia, Pa: Templeton Foundation Press, 2002.
  21. Koenig HG, McCullough ME, Larson DB: Handbook of Religion and Health. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001.
  22. Tarakeshwar N, Vanderwerker LC, Paulk E, et al.: Religious coping is associated with the quality of life of patients with advanced cancer. J Palliat Med 9 (3): 646-57, 2006.
  23. Yanez B, Edmondson D, Stanton AL, et al.: Facets of spirituality as predictors of adjustment to cancer: relative contributions of having faith and finding meaning. J Consult Clin Psychol 77 (4): 730-41, 2009.
  24. Murray SA, Kendall M, Boyd K, et al.: Exploring the spiritual needs of people dying of lung cancer or heart failure: a prospective qualitative interview study of patients and their carers. Palliat Med 18 (1): 39-45, 2004.
  25. McCullough ME, Hoyt WT, Larson DB, et al.: Religious involvement and mortality: a meta-analytic review. Health Psychol 19 (3): 211-22, 2000.
  26. Jenkins RA, Pargament KI: Religion and spirituality as resources for coping with cancer. Journal of Psychosocial Oncology 13 (1/2): 51-74, 1995.
  27. Chibnall JT, Videen SD, Duckro PN, et al.: Psychosocial-spiritual correlates of death distress in patients with life-threatening medical conditions. Palliat Med 16 (4): 331-8, 2002.
  28. Phelps AC, Maciejewski PK, Nilsson M, et al.: Religious coping and use of intensive life-prolonging care near death in patients with advanced cancer. JAMA 301 (11): 1140-7, 2009.
  29. Post SG, Puchalski CM, Larson DB: Physicians and patient spirituality: professional boundaries, competency, and ethics. Ann Intern Med 132 (7): 578-83, 2000.
  30. Sloan RP, Bagiella E, VandeCreek L, et al.: Should physicians prescribe religious activities? N Engl J Med 342 (25): 1913-6, 2000.
  31. Dagi TF: Prayer, piety and professional propriety: limits on religious expression in hospitals. J Clin Ethics 6 (3): 274-9, 1995 Fall.
  32. Kristeller JL, Rhodes M, Cripe LD, et al.: Oncologist Assisted Spiritual Intervention Study (OASIS): patient acceptability and initial evidence of effects. Int J Psychiatry Med 35 (4): 329-47, 2005.

This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: May 28, 2015
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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