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Spiritual Outlook Can Affect Mental Health in Breast Cancer

Negative feelings about faith linked to patients' poor emotional status, study suggests

FRIDAY, July 17 (HealthDay News) -- Among breast cancer patients, a positive religious attitude is not linked to measures of well-being, but a negative religious or spiritual outlook can lead to worse emotional and mental health, a recent study suggests.

The study included 198 women with early-stage breast cancer and 86 women with late-stage breast cancer, who were recruited from hospitals in western Pennsylvania. The women were interviewed at the start of the study and again eight to 12 months later.

The participants were asked whether they felt they were receiving support and guidance from God (positive religious coping) or whether they felt angry at God for letting them develop breast cancer (negative religious coping).

The researchers found that patients who were disillusioned about their faith or had a negative religious or spiritual outlook were more likely to have depressive symptoms, lower life satisfaction and worse overall mental health than those with a positive religious or spiritual attitude.

"Clinicians often don't broach the subject of religious and spiritual coping with their seriously ill patients, even though most want their physicians to be aware of their beliefs," study author Dr. Randy Hebert, medical director of Forbes Hospice, part of the West Penn Allegheny Health System, said in a news release. "Our study suggests that engaging patients about their religious or spiritual beliefs may be extremely beneficial, particularly when anger and disillusionment with one's faith is present."

The study was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Palliative Medicine.

More information

The American Cancer Society offers tips for coping with breast cancer.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: West Penn Allegheny Health System, news release, June 2009

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