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


The definition of acute spiritual distress must be considered separately. Spiritual distress may result from the belief that cancer reflects punishment by God or may accompany a preoccupation with the question "Why me?" A cancer patient may also suffer a loss of faith.[8] Although many individuals may have such thoughts at some time following diagnosis, only a few individuals become obsessed with these thoughts or score high on a general measure of religious and spiritual distress (such as the Negative subscale of the Religious Coping Scale [the RCOPE–Negative]).[8] High levels of spiritual distress may contribute to poorer health and psychosocial outcomes.[9,10] The tools for measuring these dimensions are described in the Screening and Assessment of Spiritual Concerns section.


  1. Halstead MT, Mickley JR: Attempting to fathom the unfathomable: descriptive views of spirituality. Semin Oncol Nurs 13 (4): 225-30, 1997.
  2. Zinnbauer BJ, Pargament KL: Spiritual conversion: a study of religious change among college students. J Sci Study Relig 37 (1): 161-80, 1998.
  3. Breitbart W, Gibson C, Poppito SR, et al.: Psychotherapeutic interventions at the end of life: a focus on meaning and spirituality. Can J Psychiatry 49 (6): 366-72, 2004.
  4. Task force report: spirituality, cultural issues, and end of life care. In: Association of American Medical Colleges: Report III. Contemporary Issues in Medicine: Communication in Medicine. Washington, DC: Association of American Medical Colleges, 1999, pp 24-9.
  5. Ben-Arye E, Bar-Sela G, Frenkel M, et al.: Is a biopsychosocial-spiritual approach relevant to cancer treatment? A study of patients and oncology staff members on issues of complementary medicine and spirituality. Support Care Cancer 14 (2): 147-52, 2006.
  6. 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.
  7. Riley BB, Perna R, Tate DG, et al.: Types of spiritual well-being among persons with chronic illness: their relation to various forms of quality of life. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 79 (3): 258-64, 1998.
  8. Pargament KI: The Psychology of Religion and Coping: Theory, Research, Practice. New York, NY: Guilford Press, 1997.
  9. Pargament KI, Koenig HG, Tarakeshwar N, et al.: Religious struggle as a predictor of mortality among medically ill elderly patients: a 2-year longitudinal study. Arch Intern Med 161 (15): 1881-5, 2001 Aug 13-27.
  10. Hills J, Paice JA, Cameron JR, et al.: Spirituality and distress in palliative care consultation. J Palliat Med 8 (4): 782-8, 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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