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Group therapy aids cancer survival.

Group therapy aids cancer survival

Cancer patients often hear that a positive mental attitude is the key to survival. Some therapists have promoted psychological exercises, such as visualizing immune cells wiping out cancer cells, as tools the mind can use to conquer disease.

Such claims are exaggerated, contends David Spiegel of Stanford University School of Medicine. Nevertheless, group therapy for female breast cancer patients that focuses on helping the women improve communication with family and physicians, deal with fears about death and provide emotional support to one another apparently also prolongs their lives, Spiegel and his colleagues report in the Oct. 14 LANCET.

The researchers found that 50 women undergoing medical treatment for metastatic breast cancer who participated in weekly group therapy sessions for one year lived significantly longer -- by an average of 18 months -- than 35 women who received only regular medical care. The women's health was monitored for 10 years after the group sessions concluded. Only three women were alive at the 10-year follow-up, all of whom had been in group therapy.

Numerous personality measures taken at the start of the study did not predict survival, the scientists note.

The three therapy groups in the study were led by either a psychiatrist or a social worker. Women in the groups also were taught self-hypnosis for pain control.

Reasons for the effectiveness of group sessions remain unclear, the researchers caution. However, they note, participatns shared intense emotional bonds and were better able to accept their physical predicaments. In the process, they chipped away at "the social isolation that often divides cancer patients from their well-meaning but anxious family and friends," the investigators contend.

Their argument is supported by an independent 17-year study showing that women who have few close friends, and who also feel alone even when friends are present, are most likely to die from breast and lymph cancer (SN: 3/15/86, p. 166).

Women who attended group sessions may also have lived longer because they were better able to comply with medical treatment, maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Nov 4, 1989
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