Cancer Treatment Enhanced Through Laughter

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Laughter and Cancer Treatment

Advanced cancer patients at Montefiore Einstein Cancer Center, some in advanced stages of the disease, have found a new form of therapy through laughter, enhancing cancer treatment with laughter therapy. The old adage "laughter is the best medicine" enters the health arena for reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, and simply making patients feel better.

Though researchers are not certain how much healing occurs with laughter, medical experts agree that laughter boosts bodily functions. Laughter promotes a sense of well-being, and improves muscle function and breathing. Read about the benefits of laughter to your health.

The Einstein Cancer Center offers patients a monthly laughter therapy session, called "Strength Through Laughter", described in a recent AP release. As patients gathered on Halloween to "spook cancer", most wore costumes as they laughed, hugged and provided support to one another.

Luz Rodriguez, a breast cancer patient at the Einstein Center says, "I feel healthy when I laugh." The hospital initiated the laughter therapy group five years ago in an effort to help cancer patients focus on living instead of dying. Laughter groups and clubs have gained much popularity across the country. Hospitals are embracing the idea, while laughter Yoga clubs can be found in 60 countries.

Dr. Madan Kataria, the founder of laughter Yoga is dubbed the "Guru of Giggling" by the London times. Dr. Kataria is associated with a number of research studies showing the health benefits of laughter. During the American Society of Hypertension 2008 Annual Meeting, he presented study findings involving 200 people. Dr. Kataria showed that yoga laughter is able to lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, through a combination of gentle stretching, playful laughter and breathing exercises. Studies measured lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels in the bloodstream following laughter.


Norman Cousins described the benefits of laughter after he was diagnosed with anklyosing spondylitis, a crippling disease; he decided to take charge of his life. He wrote about his experience in "Anatomy of an Illness". Checking himself out of the hospital, Cousins went to a motel room to watch comedy movies. He found that his pain improved once he began to celebrate life, writing, "I made the joyous discovery that 10 minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect." His book was published in 1979. Read Dr. Margaret Paul discussing the importance of laughter and tears.

Medical experts are not recommending that cancer patients shun traditional treatments. Laughter therapy is suggested as a complementary therapy, much like massage, acupuncture or biofeedback.

Laughter is infectious. Some laughter groups tell jokes. Other patients laugh as soon as they enter a laughter therapy session. Patients at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Zion greet each other with laughter rather than words, or engage in "silly" activities that make them laugh.

Dr. Richard Wender, former president of the American Cancer Society says, "One of the challenges of being diagnosed with cancer is preserving your dignity ... when we tell you to put on a gown where the back half is missing and everyone's examining you and asking about bodily functions." Dr. Wender is chief of family medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia where "Caring Clowns" volunteer to boost the spirits of patients.

Laughter not only has physiologic benefits that promote health - it helps us forget our problems, at least for the moment. Sherry Dunay Hilber, past director of prime time programming for CBS and ABC has developed a series of programs available to hospitals, nursing homes, clinics and cancer support groups through Rx Laughter, a non-profit organization. The focus is providing funny programs for patient viewing. According to Hilber, ..." Watching our favorite shows and films can get us through very stressful times — all the more important in light of the cost of psychotherapy that many people cannot afford, and the problematic side effects of too many pain killers."

A good sense of humor is healthy. Laughter therapy may be difficult for some cancer patients, especially immediately after being diagnosed. For others, laughter therapy might reduce the need for medications, provide needed social support, and promote a better quality of life.