'Fighting spirit' does not affect cancer survival rates

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WOMEN WITH cancer who adopt a "fighting spirit" towards the disease do not live longer, scientists have revealed.

WOMEN WITH cancer who adopt a "fighting spirit" towards the disease do not live longer, scientists have revealed.

New research published in The Lancet yesterday shows that women who find it difficult to remain positive about their illness should not worry about being miserable at times. But the findings showed that if women were seriously depressed, or felt their chances were completely hopeless, then they did have a reduced chance of surviving the disease.

Researchers from the Royal Marsden Hospital and Institute of Cancer Research in London, looked at the psychological responses of 578 women with early-stage breast cancer. The women were tested for mental adjustment to cancer, emotional control and hospital anxiety and depression.

After five years, 133 had died. Of those who had been assessed as having a fighting spirit, there was no effect on their survival rates. But of the 127 women who felt life was hopeless, only 58 per cent were alive or in remission after five years, compared with 72 per cent of the women who did not feel helpless.

"It is possible that the state of mind could influence their immune system or stress hormones, which could have a negative effect on their health," said Dr Maggie Watson, who led the research. "Another theory is that patients who feel helpless may be less motivated to make sure they get the best medical treatment, or to take good care of themselves."

Cancer specialists said that although the study showed that society's deeply held belief - that having a fighting spirit could improve the chances of survival from cancer - was untrue, maintaining a positive attitude did improve quality of life.

"We would strongly urge patients to continue battling on against their disease," said Jean King, director of education at The Cancer Research Campaign.

"Other research shows that a positive mental attitude can improve their quality of life. We also hope that this finding will relieve the burden of guilt carried by cancer patients who find it difficult to have a fighting spirit."

Millie Harrison, 51, from Sheffield, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997 said she was pleased with the results of the study: "I kept pretty positive throughout my whole experience of cancer because of support from my family and the nurses," she said.

"It really helped me to maintain a fighting spirit. But I am pleased to know that, at times when I couldn't keep going, it didn't make any difference."