Empowering cancer patients to shift their mindsets could impact their health, functioning, and well-being
A cancer diagnosis can place a huge emotional strain on patients and their families. The upheaval may last throughout treatment and possibly for years thereafter. Experts believe that targeting cancer patients’ thoughts could impact their health, functioning, and well-being in a perspective paper published in the journal Trends in Cancer, and they ask for greater research on this subject.
“We spend millions of dollars every year trying to cure and prevent cancer,” says co-author Alia Crum, a psychologist at Stanford University. “But cancer is more than a physical disease. As we strive to target malignant cells with the latest cutting-edge treatments, we should simultaneously strive to provide equally precise treatments for the psychological and social ramifications of the illness.”
Mindsets can have an impact on both mental and physical health
Mindsets are fundamental beliefs that people have about the world. When confronted with a similar event, such as a cancer diagnosis, people may have quite different perspectives on what it means for their lives. Mindsets are not always accurate or untrue, but they do influence what individuals think and how they act.
As a result, mindsets can have an impact on both mental and physical health. The relationship between mind and body has acquired wider attention in recent decades, thanks to developments in neuroscience and psychology.
However, researchers are only now beginning to study which specific mindsets have the greatest impact on the health and well-being of cancer patients, and how they do so.
Following therapy, patients may grow less fearful about adverse effects and cancer recurrence
Researchers emphasize that as cancer therapy becomes more precise and personalized, psychological treatment may become more successful if addressed specifically. The article discusses two distinct attitudes that may have an impact on the health of cancer patients: viewing illness as either a disaster or an opportunity and viewing the body as either a friend or a foe.
According to the researchers, encouraging patients to change their thinking could dramatically transform their cancer experience. Viewing cancer as controllable and recognizing the body as capable and resilient may drive patients to participate in activities and make lifestyle changes such as eating healthier and exercising. Following therapy, patients may grow less fearful about adverse effects and cancer recurrence. “We are not talking about positive thinking here,” Crum says.
“Having the mindset such as cancer is manageable or even an opportunity does not mean that cancer is a good thing, or you should be happy about it. However, the mindset that ‘cancer is manageable’ can lead to more productive ways of engaging with cancer than the mindset that ‘cancer is a catastrophe.’ What we hope for patients is to inspire them to think about the impact of their mindsets and give them skills to adopt more useful mindsets themselves.”
Although support groups and other tools are available to help with patients’ general psychological health under the current standard of treatment for cancer patients, mindsets are often disregarded.
“Cancer clinicians do what they can to provide guidance and support and reassurance to help patients and to deal with difficulties,” says co-author Lidia Schapira, a practicing oncologist at Stanford University. “But that doesn’t mean that they’re delivering any really sophisticated mental health interventions.”
Timely and context-sensitive interventions can help cancer patients
According to the researchers, “wise interventions,” which are timely and context-sensitive interventions that address individuals’ thoughts, could be utilized to help cancer patients. Although this method has been demonstrated to be beneficial in other fields, such as helping underprivileged students do better in school and helping people manage stress more efficiently, it has not been investigated in the field of cancer.
The team is presently conducting studies, including randomized controlled trials with cancer patients, to collect strong data on how mindsets affect cancer treatment outcomes and patients’ physiological health, as well as what types of therapies are most beneficial.
These interventions don’t necessarily require in-person clinic visits, says first author Sean Zion, a doctoral student at Stanford University. “There have been so many advancements in digital health platforms in recent years. We think that one way to push this forward is by creating scalable mindset interventions that can be widely distributed to patients, the type that they can do at home on their own time, where they are comfortable taking in new information.”
“This research is still in its infancy,” says Crum. “But we are working hard to uncover the specific mindsets that may interfere with patient’s ability to be resilient in the midst of cancer, and more importantly, which specific mindsets can be cultivated that can really improve their well-being. We are devoting blood, sweat, and tears to these questions because we believe that cancer patients deserve the most sophisticated psychological care.”
Materials provided by Cell Press. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Zion et al. Targeting Mindsets, Not Just Tumors. Trends in Cancer, 2019 DOI: 10.1016/j.trecan.2019.08.001
Cell Press. “Empowering cancer patients to shift their mindsets could improve care, researchers argue.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 September 2019. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/09/190923111233.htm>.
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