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Cancer Health Center

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Spirituality in Cancer Care (PDQ®): Supportive care - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Relation of Religion and Spirituality to Adjustment, Quality of Life, and Health Indices

Religion and spirituality have been shown to be significantly associated with measures of adjustment and with the management of symptoms in cancer patients. Religious and spiritual coping have been associated with lower levels of patient discomfort as well as reduced hostility, anxiety, and social isolation in cancer patients [1,2,3,4] and in family caregivers.[5] Specific characteristics of strong religious beliefs, including hope, optimism, freedom from regret, and life satisfaction, have also been associated with improved adjustment in individuals diagnosed with cancer.[6,7]

Type of religious coping may influence quality of life. In a multi-institutional cross-sectional study of 170 patients with advanced cancer, more use of positive religious coping methods (such as benevolent religious appraisals) was associated with better overall quality of life and higher scores on the existential and support domains of the McGill Quality of Life Questionnaire. In contrast, more use of negative religious coping methods (such as anger at God) was related to poorer overall quality of life and lower scores on the existential and psychological domains.[8,9] A study of 95 cancer patients diagnosed within the past 5 years found that spirituality was associated with less distress and better quality of life regardless of perceived life threat, with existential well-being but not religious well-being as the major contributor.[10]

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Spiritual well-being, particularly a sense of meaning and peace,[11] is significantly associated with an ability of cancer patients to continue to enjoy life despite high levels of pain or fatigue. Spiritual well-being and depression are inversely related.[12,13] Higher levels of a sense of inner meaning and peace have also been associated with lower levels of depression, whereas measures of religiousness were unrelated to depression.[14]

This relationship has been specifically demonstrated in the cancer setting. In a cross-sectional survey of 85 hospice patients with cancer, there was a negative correlation between anxiety and depression (as measured by the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale) and overall spiritual well-being (as measured by the Spiritual Well-Being Scale) (P < .0001). There was also a negative correlation between the existential well-being scores and the anxiety and depression scores but not with the religious well-being score (P < .001).[15] These patterns were also found in a large study of indigent prostate cancer survivors; the patterns were consistent across ethnicity and metastatic status.[16]

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