Holistic Health Show with Carl Helvie logoIn 1987, Soderstrom and Martison studied the coping strategies of cancer patients and found the most common coping strategy was praying alone or with others, and having others pray for them. In a related study in 1994, Cayse studied stressors and coping strategies of fathers of cancer patients and found that of 29 separate potential strategies, prayer was both the most common and most helpful for men.

In 1998, Ferrell et al, studied a random sample of 296 breast cancer survivors regarding faith and found that spiritual care was more important to the patients’ quality of life than support groups, counseling sessions, or even peer or spouse support. Spiritual well-being among these patients often involved feelings of hopefulness, sense of purpose, participation in prayer or meditation, and attendance at religious services.

In 1999, Brady et al, studied 1,337 cancer patients in the United States and Puerto Rico and found that spiritual well-being influenced their quality of life as much as their emotional and physical well-being.  Spiritual well-being was associated with the ability to enjoy life, even when experiencing negative symptoms. After accounting for factors associated with quality of life this relationship remained strong.

In 2000, McMillian and Weitzner studied various aspects of quality of life in patients with Cancer at the end of life and found that as their illness advances, cancer patients increasingly tend to focus on religious issues. When 231 end stage cancer patients were asked what maintained their quality of life, their “relationship with God” was the most common response from among 28 choices that included “how well I eat,” “physical contact with those I care about,” and “pain relief.” According to the researchers, end stage cancer patients maintained their relationship with God in spite of severe functional difficulties and serious physical symptoms.

In 2002, Soothill et al studied the impact of having religious faith on the cancer experience of patients and informal caregivers, and focused primarily on the association between faith and psychosocial needs. One hundred eighty nine paired patients and caregivers were queried by questionnaire on the importance of 48 needs and faith.  After controlling for the effect of eight socio-demographic and clinical variables the following results were reported. Patients with expressed faith identified fewer psychosocial needs than those without faith. However,  caregivers with expressed faith identified more needs than those without faith in relation to support from family and neighbors and also needed more help finding a sense of purpose and meaning, and in dealing with unpredictability. Both patients and caregivers with faith identified a greater need for opportunities for personal prayer, support from people of their own faith and support from a spiritual adviser. The researchers point out that one should not assume that the cancer experience is shared in the same way by patients and caregivers.

In 2003, Silvestri et al studied the importance of faith on medical decisions of cancer patients and interviewed doctors, cancer patients and their caregivers. One hundred cancer patients and their care givers and 257 medical oncologists were interviewed.  All were asked to rank the importance of the following factors that might influence treatment decisions: cancer doctor’s recommendation, faith in God, ability of treatment to cure disease, side effects, family doctor’s recommendation, spouse’s recommendation, and children’s recommendation. Although all three groups ranked the oncologist’s recommendation as most important, patients and caregivers ranked faith in God second, whereas physicians placed it last. The researchers concluded that patients and caregivers agreed on the factors that are important in deciding treatment for advanced lung cancer patients but differ substantially from doctors.

In 2004, in a study at Duke University, Koenig concluded that nearly 90 percent of patients reported using religion to some degree to cope, and more than 40 percent indicated that it was the most important factor that kept them going.

In 2004, Weaver and Flannelly studied the role of religion for cancer patients and found that when patients were divided in half based on their levels of pain and fatigue, those considered as having higher spirituality experienced greater quality of life than those who had comparable levels of pain and fatigue but lower levels of spirituality. The researchers concluded that faith plays a role in the health of patients, because even though some patients had high levels of pain, those who were very spiritual had a better quality of life than those who were not as spiritual. The study also found that prayer was the most common form of coping, and breast cancer patients described God as an “ever-present support, constant companion, and confidante who helped … their self-esteem and sense of personal control throughout their illness”.

In 2010, Parker-Pope in a New York Times article reported that the results of two national surveys show that “82 percent of respondents said they depend on God for help and guidance in making decisions.” He further said that a summary of several studies published in the Southern Medical Journal in 2004 states that: “religious beliefs and activities have been associated with better immune function…; lower death rates from cancer…; less heart disease or better cardiac outcomes…; lower blood pressure…; lower cholesterol…; and better health behaviors (less cigarette smoking;… more exercise;…and better sleep).”  In addition, he reports that studies of mortality found that religious persons live significantly longer, citing that “the effect for regular religious attendance on longevity approximates that of not smoking cigarettes (especially in women), adding an additional seven years to the lifespan (14 years for blacks).”