Optimism, mastery help cancer patients cope

NEW YORK Tue Aug 26, 2008 1:19pm EDT

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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Cancer patients who are optimistic are better able manage the severity of their pain, while those with a strong sense of mastery (control over their environment) can control their fatigue more effectively while also keeping pain severity in check, new research shows.

"These findings underscore the need for physicians and nurses involved in the care of cancer patients to recognize, encourage, promote, and take advantage of these traits in their patients to help them more effectively manage their cancer care, so that they ultimately can achieve a better quality of life," Dr. Margot E. Kurtz and colleagues from Michigan State University in East Lansing, the study's authors, conclude.

Patients with cancer commonly suffer from both pain and fatigue, which have a major impact on their quality of life and their ability to function both mentally and physically, Kurtz and her team note in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. To better understand the role of a person's emotional resources in handling these symptoms, the researchers had 214 patients undergoing chemotherapy complete a 10-week symptom control intervention program, with a nurse's assistance. All study participants were interviewed at the beginning of the study, at 10 weeks, and then again at 16 weeks.

Patients with a strong sense of mastery had less severe pain and fatigue, the researchers found. The more optimistic study participants reported less severe pain, although optimism was not linked with fatigue severity. Older patients and those with fewer health problems in addition to cancer also had less severe pain.

There was little difference between patients diagnosed with late stage illness and those whose cancer was caught early in their degree of optimism and mastery, the researchers note, while the number of additional health problems also did not appear to influence baseline optimism and mastery.

Clinicians can watch for these traits in cancer patients, Kurtz and her team suggest, and work with their patients to help them use their optimism and mastery to cope effectively with their symptoms.

OURCE: Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, July 2008.

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