Thursday, November 15, 2007

Positive thinking doesn’t affect cancer, study finds

A kind reader writes to draw my attention to this recent story by Sharon Kirkey in Canada’s National Post, which shows that a positive emotional outlook does not increase one’s chances of surviving cancers of the head or neck. He asks, doesn’t this contradict what you are saying in The Spiritual Brain?

I replied,

The study you appended looked at the value of emotional well-being in cancer survival.

Our book looked at two different topics: the placebo effect on healing and spirituality’s correlation with longevity/health.

Re cancer, we cite a study in The Spiritual Brain that found:

“However, placebos are not a cure-all. They can’t help every condition. Robert J. Temple found (2003) that placebos rarely help shrink cancerous tumors, though they do improve patients’ pain control and appetite.” (p. 144 and Note 53)“

The placebo effect should also be distinguished clearly from “positive outlook”. It means the doctor’s/patient’s belief that a specific treatment is effective. That may or may not correlate with a positive outlook in general. (E.g.: Both doctor and patient may expect the patient to die of a disease, but nonetheless believe that a given treatment relieves symptoms. In that case, the placebo may also show some good results.)

Many studies found a positive correlation between spirituality and longevity/health (Chapter 8). But that correlation may not hold for cancer in particular.

When I have a moment, I will try to get the study and find out what measures for spirituality, if any, were used.

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