The Role of Humor in Cancer Treatment

Humor can be effective in relieving anxiety during cancer treatmentMadison, Wisconsin - Stephen Rose, MD has known for some time that humor can be an effective method of relating to cancer patients in his practice as a physician at the UW Carbone Cancer Center.


In a study, "The Use of Humor in Patients with Recurrent Ovarian Cancer" published in the International Journal of Gynecological Cancer, Rose examines the clinical benefits of using this tool with patients. The findings reveal that using humor judiciously can have a positive influence on treatment.


While previous studies have considered how light-hearted interactions between doctors and patients can impact care, Rose was inspired to look into the effect of humor in patients with recurrent ovarian cancer in particular because of seriousness of this generally terminal diagnosis.


"Patient visits are often tense and emotional," he observes. "so we wanted to explore how humor is used by the patient, their family or their caregivers in this dynamic, and whether it was perceived as helpful to the patients down the line."


The study asked a series of questions to women over the age of 18 diagnosed with recurrent ovarian cancer to flush out exactly how humor was used by patient and caregiver alike. The majority of those interviewed appreciated humor when used by fellow patients, family members and physicians. Rose found that humor helps women with ovarian cancer face their diagnosis, avoid denial, and control different forms of anxiety. In essence, humor comforts the mind from the weight of a serious condition.


"For caregivers, just making some playful conversation can often lead to an opportunity to laugh," notes Rose.


Several women who took part in the study also approved of humor in the waiting room, including jokes, life stories between patients and others, and even humorous situations shared with patients and nurses or physicians. However, respondents specified that this behavior was only effective when an established rapport with staff already existed.


Members of the study also reported that humor didn't feel appropriate when it came with bad news, potentially resulting in a lowered confidence in the quality of the care itself, demonstrating the vulnerability that exists during visits to the clinic. Thus, Rose cautions the use of discretion in these difficult situations.


Finally, the study affirmed that women undergo high levels of stress while waiting between doctor visits and treatments. "It was during this time that subjects felt a humorous intervention would be most helpful," Rose adds.


Building on the success of his recent publication, study examining the effectiveness of using humor in chemotherapy waiting rooms of patients with gynecological cancer is already in the works.


"It is an old adage that if we couldn't laugh, we would cry," says Rose. "Though often said in jest, I think this is true."


"Humor is a well-known coping mechanism to physician and patent alike," he continues. "In my practice, humor has certainly helped me to make a greater connection with patients. Even taking the time to tell a funny story can bring me closer to the patient if done properly."

Date Published: 08/29/2013

News tag(s):  cancer

News RSS Feed