Faith in God as cancer fighter: Study links religion and spirituality to better health

August 13, 2015
Andre Mitchell for

A woman holds the hand of her mother who is dying from cancer during her final hours at a palliative care hospital in Winnipeg, Canada (Reuters)With the advances in science and medicine, more effective ways to fight the scourge of cancer are now available, although the cost of treatment remains sky-high.

A recent study, however, showed that there is another way to combat cancer that doesn't come with a price tag: faith in God.

Researchers analysed previous studies involving 44,000 cancer patients and their spirituality, and found out that patients who are more religious and spiritual tend to experience fewer physical symptoms of cancer.

Religion and spirituality were also associated with better health, according to the study.

Patients who believe in a higher being also showed better physical function, and more responsiveness to cancer treatment, according to the study.

The research also established a link between intrinsic religious belief and better physical function.

"Cancer patients who reported higher meaning, purpose, and spiritual connection in life also reported better physical health, as did patients who reported more positive religious or spiritual explanations for the cancer (versus a sense of fatalism or anger towards God)," research leader Heather Jim explained.

Jim, who comes from the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, said, however, that better health is not tied to any particular religion.

"Patients should not be pressured into adopting religious or spiritual beliefs. Although our data suggest that patients with greater religion/spirituality tend to have better perceived physical health, these are aggregate-level data," Jim said.

The lead researcher nevertheless observed that religious and spiritual people were less likely to engage in practices that were detrimental to their health, such as drinking alcohol and smoking.

Jim also said that spiritual people showcased more physical emotions such as love, forgiveness and comfort.

"Conversely, spiritual distress is associated with greater depression and decreased adherence to medical recommendations among cancer patients," Jim said.

The study, however, did not establish a direct link between good physical health and the actual practice of religion, such as prayer and going to church.