Emotional State Doesn't Affect Cancer Survival

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By Madeline Vann
HealthDay Reporter
Monday, October 22, 2007; 12:00 AM

MONDAY, Oct. 22 (HealthDay News) -- Neither positive nor negative emotional states predict how long a person with cancer will survive, a new study finds.

University of Pennsylvania researchers say that among head and neck cancer patients, emotional health -- good or bad -- is not an independent factor affecting prognosis.

"We anticipated finding that emotional well-being would predict the outcome of cancer. We exhaustively looked for it, and we concluded there is no effect for emotional well-being on cancer outcome," said study author and University of Pennsylvania psychologist James Coyne. "I think [cancer survival] is basically biological. Cancer patients shouldn't blame themselves -- too often we think if cancer were beatable, you should beat it. You can't control your cancer. For some, this news may lead to some level of acceptance."

The study, expected to be published in the Dec. 1 issue ofCancer, culled data from almost 1,100 patients enrolled in two phase III clinical trials for new head and neck cancer treatments.

The patients completed questionnaires about their attitude and social networks at the beginning of the study and at follow-up. The questionnaire included five questions to assess emotional well-being, including such items as "I am sad" and "I am losing hope in my fight against my illness."

By the end of the five-year study, 646 patients died. When the data was analyzed, the researchers found that emotional status had no effect on the course of the cancer or the patient's survival.

Although there is no evidence that psychotherapy or support groups contribute to the chance of survival, Coyne said that if cancer patients need mental health help to improve their quality of life, they should pursue it.

Study co-author Dr. Benjamin Movsas agreed, saying that quality of life may indeed be a factor in a patient's survival of cancer, but it is a much bigger concept than mood and attitude.

"In a separate study, we found that single males with head and neck cancer appeared to be at risk for lower survival... and in another study, we found single males with cancer had among the lowest quality of life," said Movsas, who is chairman of radiation oncology at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

About 40,000 new cases of head and neck cancer are diagnosed each year, and about 11,000 people die from these cancers annually, according to the American Cancer Society.

The role of the patient's attitude in cancer treatment has been in debate for years. This is not the first study to assess whether emotional state could affect the course of cancer. However, this study had a larger number of deaths than some other studies had enrollees, the researchers noted, allowing them greater control over issues of chance that could affect the study results.

One advantage to working with people in a clinical trial, Coyne said, is knowing that they are all receiving the same treatment.


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