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Negativity damages cancer patients quality of life

14th September 2005

Cancer patients who find themselves mulling over their condition have their quality of life damaged health psychologists have found.

Dr Val Morrison of the University of Wales Bangor, told the British Psychological Society's Division of Health Psychology Annual Conference the stage of treatment patients were at and age influenced their use of a ruminative coping style, mood and quality of life, but there was no difference between men and women.

In a questionnaire survey of 147 cancer and haematology outpatients the researchers measured a number of reactions to the illness and treatment experienced by patients including anxiety, depression, fatigue and tension.

The research found people who responded with ruminative coping responses, that is to say mulling over their illness, also had high levels of anxiety, depression and fatigue and reported poorer physical, functional, social, and emotional quality of life.

Emotional reactions to cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment can be intense and most people find it impossible not to dwell on the illness, its possible causes and potential consequences. Little research has been done before this study into the role of such ruminative processes in maintaining emotional distress and damaging the person's quality of life.

The research team now is evaluating the effects of one particular therapy, Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), on mood, well-being and distress amongst people with cancer.

As Dr Morrison explained: "A diagnosis of cancer and the treatment which often follows throws up a variety of challenges, many of which are psychological. Our natural response when our mood collapses is to try and put it out of our mind, but it just keeps coming back. This therapy increases awareness and acceptance of present-moment experience, thought and emotion and encourages people to challenge unhelpful ways of thinking and alter their behaviour."