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Positive Attitude Does Little to Boost Cancer Survival Odds, Study Says

Emotional well-being does little to boost a person's odds of surviving cancer, according to a new study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

Researchers found that emotional well-being is not an independent factor affecting the prognosis of patients, according to the study, which appears in the December 1 issue of the journal, CANCER.

“The belief that a patient’s psychological state can impact the course and outcome of their cancer is one that has been prominent among patients and medical professionals alike,” said Dr. James C. Coyne, co-leader of the Cancer Control and Outcomes Program at Abramson Cancer Center and a professor of psychology at University of Pennsylvania.

“This belief leads people to seek psychotherapy in the hopes of promoting survival. While there can be lots of emotional and social benefits of psychotherapy, patients should not seek such experiences solely on the expectation that they are extending their lives.”

Study participants were enrolled in two radiation oncology group clinical trials and completed a baseline measure of quality of life questionnaire, which included an emotional well-being measurement. The outcome measure was overall survival.

The study sample included 1,093 patients with head and neck cancers. Of this group, 646 died during the length of the study.

The researchers found that emotional status was not a predictor of survival among this population. Furthermore, no effects were observed when the researchers examined interactions between emotional well-being and study protocol, gender, primary cancer site or stage of cancer.

“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,” added Coyne, the study's lead author.