Lung Cancer and Spirituality

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Does spirituality play a role in lung cancer treatment? We hear people talk about their faith helping them through their cancer journey. We, in turn, offer our thoughts and prayers. Intuitively many of us sense that our spirituality plays a role in our health and ability to cope with a life-threatening disease. But what does the medical research say? Does our faith play a role in cancer treatment? And if so, should the medical profession address our spiritual needs as it does our physical and emotional needs? The research is scant, but a few studies now suggest that spirituality is important for coping, and in some cases, may even affect your prognosis after a diagnosis of lung cancer.

What is spirituality? The National Cancer Institute defines spirituality as an individual’s belief about the meaning of life. These beliefs may be expressed through organized religion, or in other ways such as the arts, communing with nature, yoga or meditation.

Coping With Cancer

Several studies have shown that religiosity and spirituality contribute significantly to the adjustment to a diagnosis of cancer and cancer treatment. Individuals who rely on their faith tend to have more active coping styles, addressing treatment options in a more positive manner. These benefits extend beyond those living with cancer, and caregivers who consider spirituality important in their lives, are also able to cope better as they care for their loved ones with cancer.

Lung Cancer Treatment

In addition to approaching treatment in a more positive light, an active spiritual life may enhance the benefits of chemotherapy. In a recent study, patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer were observed during chemotherapy. The response rate to chemotherapy was significantly higher in the group that reported a high degree of faith. Following chemotherapy, these patients also had a healthier immune system than those who reported little or no faith.

Lung Cancer Survival

In a recent study, the 3-year survival rate for patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer was significantly higher than for those with a high faith score vs individuals with a low faith score. This was a small study (only 50 patients) but something we should pay attention to given the inadequate treatment options we now have. It is important to point out that having faith does not guarantee survival. Many of us know of someone—who despite having a very strong faith and active spiritual life—lost their battle with cancer.

Quality of Life With Cancer

Studies also tell us that patients who are given spiritual support by religious communities have a significantly better quality of life. Whether this is due to an individual’s faith or the services that such a community can provide is uncertain. Regardless, many religious communities can provide support for those living with cancer ranging from social interaction to assistance with chores and transportation, to financial assistance in some cases.

Physical and Functional Well-Being

A 2015 meta-analysis looking at over 2000 studies found that religion/spirituality was associated with better patient-reported physical health and functioning.

Spirituality, Cancer, and the Medical Profession

Quality of life for those with living with cancer also has been shown to improve when spiritual support is provided by the medical system. Sadly, in another recent study out of Harvard, 72 percent of cancer patients stated that their spiritual needs were addressed minimally or not at all by the medical system.

Talking With Your Medical Team About Spirituality

It's clear from a few studies now that many patients would like to talk to their medical providers about spiritual issues, but those conversations rarely take place. From the medical side of this equation, physicians may be hesitant to approach the subject lest their patient not desire such as conversation. In fact, some people living with cancer may be particularly bitter and would be offended if the topic was opened.

Just as with any area of medical care, being your own advocate is important. If you wish to communicate with your doctor about your concerns regarding your faith, or simply wish to comment on its role in your life as a cancer patient, you may need to initiate the conversation. Some doctors may not be receptive and will let you know, but more often you're likely to find that your doctor is very open to addressing your spiritual concerns and will be thankful you spoke up.

A Word From Verywell

Spirituality has been found to play a significant role in how people are able to cope with cancer, and may even have medical benefits. It's important to note that spirituality does not mean organized religion or one particular denomination at that. Rather, it is a broad area that ultimately provides the framework through which people find meaning in life and disease.

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