Changing the Mindsets of Cancer Patients Could Improve Care

Research discusses specific mindsets that could affect the health of patients with cancer: regarding the disease as either a catastrophe or an opportunity and seeing the body as either a friend or foe.

Experts suggest that targeting the mindsets of patients with cancer could affect their health, functioning, and well-being, and they call for more research in the field to accommodate patients who are suffering from depression or anxiety.

In a perspective paper published September 23, 2019, in the journal Trends in Cancer, the authors stress that as cancer treatment becomes more precise and customized, psychological treatment also has the opportunity to become more effective if targeted specifically.

The article presents 2 pairs of specific mindsets that could affect the health of patients with cancer: regarding cancer as either a catastrophe or an opportunity and seeing the body as either a friend or foe.

The authors argue that empowering patients to shift their mindset could completely alter their cancer experience. Instead of catastrophic thinking, viewing cancer as manageable and recognizing the body as capable and resilient may motivate patients to participate in activities and initiate lifestyle changes, such as eating healthier and getting exercise. Patients may become less afraid of adverse events from treatment and cancer recurrence afterward.

The authors wrote that changing a patient’s mindset is not the same as positive thinking, but rather viewing the cancer as manageable rather than a positive experience. Having a mindset about “cancer as manageable” rather than “cancer as a catastrophe” allows a patient to engage with the disease in a more productive way.

In the current standard of care for patients with cancer, despite the availability of support groups and other resources to help with patients’ overall psychological health, mindsets tend to be overlooked, according to the authors.

The researchers propose that “wise interventions,” or timely and context-sensitive interventions that target individuals’ mindsets, could be used to help patients with cancer. The team is currently conducting experiments, including randomized-controlled trials with patients with cancer, to obtain robust data on how mindsets can affect treatment outcomes and patients’ physiological health, and which types of interventions would be the most supportive.

Reference

  • Trends in Cancer, Zion et al.: "Targeting Mindsets, Not Just Tumors" https://www.cell.com/trends/cancer/fulltext/S2405-8033(19)30176-1. Accessed September 25, 2019.