A groundbreaking new study has found that cancer patients who possess a deep faith in God experience fewer physical and mental symptoms of the illness than non-believers.
A three-part report published in the journal CANCER studied the impact of religious belief on the physical, mental and social health of over 44,000 cancer patients. What the study found was not altogether surprising: those with the strongest faith claimed they felt healthier and mentally better and experienced fewer symptoms of cancer and its treatment.
Those who held to a strong belief in God also fared better both emotionally and socially, experiencing significantly less anxiety, depression and distress than non-believers.
Explained Dr. John Salsman at Wake Forest School of Medicine, "Spiritual well-being was, unsurprisingly, associated with less anxiety, depression, or distress. Also, greater levels of spiritual distress and a sense of disconnectedness with God or a religious community was associated with greater psychological distress or poorer emotional well-being."
Researchers also found that those who believed in a compassionate, merciful God were able to maintain relationships throughout their illness and experienced greater emotional satisfaction than those who believed their cancer was a punishment from an angry God.
According to the Telegraph, researchers said further studies were needed on the long-term correlation between religion and health and whether health support services should offer believers religious guidance.
"In addition, some patients struggle with the religious or spiritual significance of their cancer, which is normal," said Dr. Heather Jim of the Moffitt Cancer Center. "How they resolve their struggle may impact their health, but more research is needed to better understand and support these patients."
While the CANCER report is the first comprehensive study of its kind, the idea that faith and physical and mental health are linked is not altogether new.
A 2010 study published in the journal Liver Transplantation found those who were actively "seeking God" had a better survival rate than those who did not hold religious beliefs, regardless of which faith they held.
Dr. Franco Bonaguidi, who led the study, said the study found patients with "high religious coping" who actively sought "God's help" and trusted their beliefs had a "more prolonged post-transplant survival than patients with low religiosity".
"We found that an active search for God, (where) the patient's faith in a higher power rather than a generic destiny, had a positive impact on patient survival," he said.
Similarly, a report released last year published in the British Journal of General Practice found that religious faith remains by far the best predictor of a long and healthy life. The study found that faith reduced the risk of a heart attack by two-thirds and and also improved survival of a stroke or cancer.
Researchers also found that believers with depression typically recovered faster, and those with schizophrenia functioned better, while alcohol and drug misuse was reduced.
"Faith in God," concluded survey conductor Dr. Richard Scott, "is relevant to all diseases yet studied."