Writing about the experience of dealing with cancer may help boost some patients' well-being, a new study suggests.
Researchers found that a single, 20-minute writing session helped change the way some cancer patients thought or felt about their disease. That, in turn, seemed to improve how they rated their quality of life.
"We're excited to find possible benefit with a single, 20-minute writing session," lead researcher Nancy P. Morgan, of Georgetown University in Washington, DC, told Reuters Health.
"I think there is no question that it is feasible to engage people in expressive writing in the cancer clinic," she said.
Expressive writing refers to writing about one's deepest thoughts and feelings about life experiences. Studies have shown that the practice can benefit people with health conditions such as asthma, arthritis, pelvic pain and cancer. The benefits, in some studies, have included physical ones, like reduced pain and improved immune function, the researchers explain in the journal The Oncologist.
However, past studies of expressive writing for cancer patients have been done in controlled, lab settings. For the new study, the researchers brought their writing program into a busy cancer clinic, and asked patients on the spot, as they sat in the waiting room, if they would participate in the study. Of 98 patients, 71 agreed.
Expressing inner thoughts and feelings
The writing exercise prompted patients to write either about the issues in life that were most important to them or, more specifically, how having cancer had changed them.
In a survey taken immediately afterward, half of the patients said that the writing experience had changed the way they thought about their disease. Three weeks later, slightly more - 54 percent - felt that way.
Moreover, patients who reported such changes tended to score higher on a standard measure of quality of life than they did before the writing exercise.
One theory, according to Morgan, is that when people with chronic health conditions are allowed to process their thoughts and emotions through writing, it produces both psychological and physiological changes. However, there are likely a number of reasons why expressive writing has benefits, she noted.
The current findings, Morgan said, suggest that expressive writing could offer a "simple, effective, low-cost" tool to help cancer patients cope.
"Writing research has been conducted in laboratory settings for more than 20 years with encouraging results," she said. "It's time to bring those benefits to our patients." - (Amy Norton/Reuters Health)
SOURCE: The Oncologist, February 2008.
Words can help healing