A large study found that a patient’s emotional well-being does not affecting the prognosis of head and neck cancer.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania took a closer look at the age old question: Can the mind – through its psychological state and emotional status – heal the body from an organic disease?
The evidence they collected strongly suggests that it does not, especially for life-threatening diseases such as advanced cancer.
New study more focused
Dr James Coyne and colleagues said previous studies used patients with many different diseases, small sample sizes and an inadequate number of deaths to be conclusive. However, Coyne’s team analysed data from two community studies of patients with head and neck cancer “to examine whether emotional well being at study entry predicted survival.”
The sample included 1 093 patients with head and neck cancer who completed a quality of life questionnaire during their treatment. Of that group, 646 died during the length of the study. The analysis showed that emotional status was not associated with survival rate.
In one of the methodologically strongest studies to date, Coyne and co-authors found that emotional status “neither directly affected progression or death, nor functioned as a lurking variable.”
Psychotherapy doesn’t prolong life
While this study may not end the debate, it does provide the strongest evidence to date that psychological factors are not independently prognostic in cancer management. Moreover, a recent comprehensive review failed to find credible evidence in previous studies for the claim that cancer patients’ participation in psychotherapy or support groups prolonged their lives.
Coyne noted that “the hope that we can fight cancer by influencing emotional states appears to have been misplaced. If cancer patients want psychotherapy or to be in a support group, they should be given the opportunity to do so. There can be lots of emotional and social benefits. But they should not seek such experiences solely on the expectation that they are extending their lives.” – (EurekAlert!)