Using humor and laughter is a universal feel-good way of helping humanity bond but also for dealing with a major life-altering event like a cancer diagnosis. However, research on humor in healthcare settings is not well-documented. Yet, there is evidence that both physical and psychological benefits are gained when humor is used appropriately when facing a potentially life-threatening disease.
Science supports humor and laughter as tools for cancer treatment
A cancer diagnosis is serious. Few people, if any, will respond with laughter when told they have cancer. Cancer is not funny because it disrupts our plans; it creates anxiety, fear, and sadness that can influence our response negatively to the disease. However, even a bible verse from Proverbs 17:22 states, “A merry heart does good like a medicine.”
The best way to think of humor when facing cancer is to have an open mind. This open-mindedness also applies to healthcare providers (HCPs). Not only should cancer patients understand the positive effects of humor to relieve stress, improve coping, better communication, and build trust with HCPs, even HCPs should learn the value of using humor where and when appropriate with patients.
A 2020 study found out the importance of humor for oncology patients in dealing with cancer and how HCPs working with these patients can, when appropriate, incorporate humor into the care they provide.
This cross-sectional study was designed for use in an outpatient setting by completing a survey. The results showed that among the almost 200 patients who responded, both men and women with diagnoses of breast, prostate, and lung cancer indicated that during outpatient visits, humor was “somewhat important” or “very important” for HCPs to use appropriately. Here is the breakdown:
- 85% stated laughing was “somewhat important” or “very important”
- 70% stated it was “somewhat important” or “very important” to use humor to remember information shared by their HCPs
- 67% stated thought HCPs telling jokes was “somewhat important” or “very important”
- 71% stated the use of humor was “somewhat important” or “very important: when patients and HCPs were communicating about health issues
- 75% stated it was “somewhat important” or “very important” for HCPs not to ignore attempts by patients to use humor
Most of us would agree that a robust burst of laughter has a whole-body effect. A belly laugh will involve and relax muscles of the face, shoulders, diaphragm, abdomen, and possibly even the legs and arms. It even helps to reduce blood pressure and blood flow of oxygen throughout the body.
Frequent laughter can also produce endorphins acting as natural painkillers, a common side effect of cancer and its treatment.
Cancer patients should also consider using humor and laughter to deal with the stress of the disease. Stress weakens the immune system, making them vulnerable to illnesses. If stress is pervasive daily, it creates a situation of chronic stress may even contribute to a diagnosis of cancer.
Take home message
While not every oncology patient or HCP will be on board with using humor to deal with cancer, most, if not all, should recognize that humor is invaluable for building trust and improving overall satisfaction. Using humor and having casual conversations with a HCP about nonmedical topics intertwined with humor and laughter are necessary for solidifying these medical relationships.
So, go ahead when staring down cancer – smile, laugh, and have a sense of humor. However, the harsh reality of cancer often makes it hard to laugh and easy to cry. That’s why a dose of humor is ideal when confronted with cancer. Besides, in almost every serious situation, there often will be something to laugh about.
Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy. Dr. Samadi is a medical contributor to NewsMax TV and is also the author of The Ultimate MANual, Dr. Samadi’s Guide to Men’s Health and Wellness, available online both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncology and prostate cancer 911.