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October 27, 2017

Anxiety and fear are painful—but for some patients, they're also helpful, study finds

Daily Briefing

    Cancer patients may experience increased anxiety or fear, but those negative emotions could help motivate patients to practice healthy behaviors—provided the patient has a knack for adapting to new goals, according to a study published in Health Psychology, Eryn Brown writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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    Study details

    For the study, researchers assessed 145 breast cancer survivors. Specifically, the researchers evaluated the patients' exercise habits, how much of the stress hormone cortisol the patients had in their salvia, and demographic data. According to the researchers, regular exercise has been linked to benefits related and unrelated to cancer, including weight management, immunity conditions, and cardiovascular disease. Meanwhile, the Times reports high levels of cortisol sustained over time could lead to conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease.

    The researchers also looked at two other factors: "high-arousal negative affect"—which is a measure of strong negative emotions, such as anxiety, fear, and guilt--and goal adjustment capacity, which is a measure of a person's ability to relinquish old goals and establish new goals.

    Key findings

    The researchers found that women who reported intense negative emotions had higher levels of cortisol and were less likely to exercise if they also scored poorly on measures of goal adjustment capacity, compared with those who reported intense negative emotions but were better able to adjust to new goals

    The researchers concluded that negative emotions such as anxiety, fear, and guilt can be associated with good or bad health outcomes—depending on the individual person.

    Andree Castonguay, a postdoctoral research fellow in kinesiology at Concordia University in Montreal and lead author of the study, said, "Negative emotions get a bad rap," but "if they're used in the right way, by helping someone set a new goal, they can act as a driving force." Ultimately, negative emotions are a "double-edged sword," Castonguay said.

    Castonguay said the results could help inform care for cancer survivors. She explained that providers could use the tools they already have to determine whether a patient is good at adjusting their goals, and they could provide additional assistance to those for whom new goal setting is difficult, helping them to channel their negative emotions into positive health behaviors (Brown, Los Angeles Times, 10/13).

    What they value: 5 types of cancer patients

    Cancer patients have more choices for their care than ever before. To attract patients in this fiercely competitive landscape, you must invest your limited resources in the right services—ones that will earn patients' trust and improve their experience.

    Our infographic is your guide to understanding the five types of patients and what they value in a cancer provider.

    Download the Infographic

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