Using Spirituality and Religious Beliefs to Positively Influence Cancer Care

JILL B. HAMILTON, PHD, RN, FAAN | June 23, 2016
The pressing question for healthcare providers is how these research findings might be useful to support patients and family members through a cancer diagnosis and treatment. One suggestion would be to encourage the expression of religious beliefs during patient encounters and incorporate religious beliefs into cancer care.

For example, to decrease patients’ and family members’ anxieties and fear of death, remind patients to use their spirituality, as this could be calming, enabling them to better process the information we are giving them. Encourage the use of a favorite religious song or Bible verse to decrease fear and anxiety. Asking about spirituality might be a nonthreatening and culturally sensitive way to begin conversations related to the psychological distress associated with a cancer diagnosis. The 23rd Psalm is a favored and widely used part of scripture, as are the hymns “Amazing Grace” and “I Will Trust in the Lord.”

We do not need to have similar beliefs to provide patients and families with spiritual support. Our patients want us to acknowledge and understand that God is real, tangible, and central to every aspect of their lives. Being respectful of this can assist patients and their family members in overcoming their fears and anxieties and facilitating a sense of trust and hopefulness, as we attempt to provide optimal cancer care.
  1. Hamilton JB, Galbraith KV, Best NC, et al. African American cancer survivors’ use of religious beliefs to positively influence the utilization of cancer care. J Relig Health. 2015;54(5):1856-1869.
  2. Pew Research Center. Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. A Religious Portrait of African-Americans. 2009. Accessed May 25, 2016.
  3. Cone JH. God of the Oppressed. Maryknoll, NY: Orbits Books; 2002.
  4. Pinn AB. Why Lord? Suffering and Evil in Black Theology. New York, NY: Continuum; 1999.

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