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Hope and Cancer

Norman Cousins

Norman Cousins

reported on a UCLA study in which a research team launched a national survey of cancer specialists, asking their opinions of which personality attributes most contributed to improved medical outcomes. A total of 649 oncologists responded, reporting on their experiences in treating more than a hundred thousand cancer patients. More than 90 percent of the respondents reported that they found an attitude of hope and optimism to be the attribute of patients most associated with the best medical outcomes. 

 For this reason, oncologists need to deliver diagnoses in ways that instill hope. For example, if a particular diagnosis carries a 95% fatality rate, the physician should point out that 5% have beaten the odds, and then explain that “You may be able to be in that 5%.” Doctors say they don’t want to give false hope, but hope improves immune function, whereas lack of hope leads to despair, which is associated with depressed immune function.


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