Patients who use religion cope better with cancer

By: Stacy McCloud Email
By: Stacy McCloud Email

Dr. Andrea C. Phelps with Beth Israel Deoconess Medical Center decided to study religion and cancer.

Her findings are simple, that many patients with advanced cancer turn to religion to help them adapt to their illness.
"Religious coping is simply defined as how a patient makes use of his or her religious faith to understand and adapt to crisis," says Dr. Phelps

To better understand the effects religion might have on these patients' medical care, Dr. Phelps and colleague Dr. Holly Prigerson led a team studying the treatment of 345 patients with advanced cancer, following up with them until their death.
"What's nice about this study or unusual about this study is that it takes religious copoing and it shows how it actually predicts subsequent care, which is an objective health outcome," explains Dr. Holly Prigerson with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

"We found that positive religious coping was very commonly endorsed by patients with advanced cancer and we wanted to get a reflection of how the normal ways people use their faith to cope would influence their treatment decisions," adds Dr. Phelps.

Featured this week in The Journal of the American Medical Association, the study found that patients who reported a high level of positive religions coping were about 3 times as likely to receive mechanical ventilation and intensive life prolonging care during their last week of life than those who disclosed a low level.

"What these findings indicate is that rather than economic factors like health insurance coverage, what's dictating the use of aggressive care at the end of life are important personal beliefs like religious coping. People who seek comfort in God to deal with their impending death are getting more aggressive care, intensive, aggressive care at the end of life," says Dr. Prigerson.

The researchers believe their findings could give clinicians greater insight into their patients who are terminally ill. "We need to understand that our patients are relying on their faiths to understand their illness and to make decisions, and difficult decisions, about care at the end of life"

For more information on this study you can go to the JAMA web page


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