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Study Shows Effect of Humor For Cancer Patients Going Through Treatment

Jen Slack's picture
Cancer Treatment and Humor

It's a phrase we are all familiar with - "laughter is the best medicine". Because it is such a pleasant and positive phrase, we like to repeat it. How well, though, does this really stand up to scientific scrutiny?


By analyzing conversations on an online forum, the language used by cancer patients, caregivers and health professionals was the subject of a study by England's Lancaster University, called "Metaphor, Cancer and the End of Life'.

It was the metaphors, in particular, that were of interest to the researchers, who included Elena Semino, Andrew Hardie, Sheila Payne and Paul Rayson, from Lancaster University, and Zsófia Demjén from University College London.

Professor Elena Semino, explained, "By exploring systematically the metaphors used by patients, family carers and healthcare professionals in the context of cancer and the end of life, we hope to increase healthcare professionals' awareness of their own and others' uses of language, so that they can adopt more sensitive and effective communication strategies with patients and their families.

Humor Is a Helpful Tool

It was believed by researchers that cancer patients appreciated the use of funny metaphors, or figures of speech, like "Mr C" replacing the word cancer, or "The Wizard of Onc", to replace the word oncologist. In this way, the patients were able to mock the disease and distance themselves from the severity of it.

Co-author Dr Zsófia Demjén said, "Making fun of cancer helps some people on the online forum cope with serious, threatening and unpredictable circumstances, and to bond with one another."

Popular Metaphors Used and Their Meaning

"Beast" - cancer.
"Chicken" - the opposite of brave"
"Marathon" - a difficult, long lasting battle with cancer
"Dragons" - tumors
"Chicken" - fear

The researchers hope that in studying the communication and metaphors, health professionals might better learn what kind of language and humor cancer patients appreciate.

Effect of Funny Videos

In another study from Loma Linda University in California, researchers wanted to discover what effects humor can have on stress and short-term memory.

Healthy, older adults in their 60's and 70's were studied. While one group was asked to sit silently, without the talking, reading, or talking on their phones, the other group watched funny movies.

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Twenty minutes later, saliva samples and short term memory tests were taken. Both groups actually performed better after the break than before. The group watching the videos, however, demonstrated far better memory recall at 43.6 percent, while the non-humor group's level was at 20.3 percent.

Co-Author of the study, Gurinder S. Bains, a Ph. D candidate at Loma Linda surmised, “There are several benefits to humor and laughter. Older adults need to have a better quality of life. Incorporating time to laugh, through social interaction with friends, enjoying exercise in a group setting, or even watching 20 minutes of humor on TV daily, can enhance your learning ability and delayed recall....Find what makes you laugh and include it in your daily routine. As an older adult, you will face age associated memory deficits, but humor and laughter can be integrated into a whole person wellness plan that can translate into improvements in your quality of life: mind, body, and spirit.”

Sounds to me like very wise advice

Laughter Burns Calories
According to a Vanderbilt University study, 10-15 minutes of laughter can burn up to 40 calories. Next time I say I laughed my butt off, it may be an exaggeration, but I will know that I did at least burn up some calories.

Laughter Is Good For The Heart

In another study at the University of Maryland, it was discovered that a sense of humor can protect against heart disease.

Perhaps this is why Laughter Clubs actually exist. Yes, people who get together on a regular basis to laugh together. I am perplexed as to whether this is really strange or really fun. Here is a Youtube video explaining the phenomenon. I think I might rather just sit back and watch America's Funniest Home Videos on Youtube in the comfort of my own home.

Patch Adams

The 1998 blockbuster movie, Patch Adams, seems to give the impression that Dr. Hunter "Patch" Adams was the first to introduce the theory that laughter is good medicine. The movie, although an endearing one that recognizes the efforts of a remarkable doctor, fails to recognize that the original idea came from a book thousands of years before Patch Adams ever existed.

Approximately 1000 years before Christ, a wise king wrote these words, which are taken from the Old Testament of the Bible.

"A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bone" Proverbs 17:22

How often do you laugh in the course of a regular day? What kind of comedy do you enjoy? Do you find laughing as exhilarating as i do? I am prone to laughing fits to the point of tears? Can you relate or do you find that really odd?

Please weigh in. And if you liked this article and think it may help your friends, consider sharing or tweeting it to your followers.