Spirituality in Cancer Care

Armen Hareyan's picture

Many cancer patients rely on spiritual and/or religious beliefs and practices to help them cope with their disease. This is called spiritual coping. Some patients may want their doctors and caregivers to address spiritual concerns, not only for end-of-life issues but also during treatment. Medical staff may therefore ask patients to identify spiritual issues that are important to them during cancer care.

Definition of Spirituality and Religion

For many people, spirituality and religion have different meanings.

The terms spirituality and religion are often used in place of each other, but for many people they have different meanings. Religion may be defined as a specific set of beliefs and practices, usually associated with an organized group. Spirituality may be defined as an individual's sense of peace, purpose, and connection to others, and beliefs about the meaning of life. Spirituality may be found and expressed through an organized religion or in other ways. Many patients consider themselves both spiritual and religious. Some patients may consider themselves spiritual, but not religious. Other patients may consider themselves religious, but not spiritual.

Spiritual distress is unresolved religious or spiritual conflict and doubt.


A serious illness like cancer may challenge a patient's beliefs or religious values, resulting in high levels of spiritual distress. Some cancer patients may feel that cancer is a punishment by God or may suffer a loss of faith after being diagnosed.

Other patients may experience mild spiritual distress when coping with cancer. For example, when prayer is used as a coping method, some patients may worry about how to pray or may doubt their prayers are being answered.


Provided by www.cancer.gov