RTOG research shows emotional well-being does not predict cancer survival

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Researchers for the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group (RTOG), a clinical research enterprise of the ACR, have found that emotional well-being is not an independent factor in predicting the survival time of patients with head and neck cancer, according to a report that will appear in the Dec. 1 issue of Cancer.
“The belief that a patient’s psychological state can impact the course and outcome of their cancer is one that has been prominent among patients and medical professionals, alike,” according to James Coyne, PhD, co-leader of Cancer Control and Outcomes Program at the Abramson Cancer Center; professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania; and lead author of the study. “This belief leads people to seek psychotherapy in the hopes of promoting survival. While there can be lots of emotional and social benefits of psychotherapy, patients should not seek such experiences solely on the expectation that they are extending their lives.”
Participants in the study were enrolled in two large, RTOG, multi-center clinical trials and completed a baseline measure of quality of life, the functional assessment of cancer therapy-general, which included an emotional well-being subscale. Researchers then examined survival and quality of life data from approximately 1,100 patients and 650 deaths.

The results showed that “no statistically significant univariate or multivariate effects were observed for emotional well-being, and there were no effects limited to subgroups. These results stand in sharp contrast to the prognostic value of a variety of demographic and clinical variables.”

Walter Curran, MD, RTOG group chair and clinical director of the Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University, said that while the results may not apply to all cancer types, especially where emotional functioning may be related to hormone status, “the RTOG research does provide strong evidence that psychological factors are not independent predictors of survival for head and neck cancer patients.”