Does It Pay to Be Spiritual (But Not Necessarily Religious)?

Bret S. Stetka, MD; Anthony J. Cannon, MD


June 04, 2015

Editor's Note: While onsite at the American Psychiatric Association's 168th Annual Meeting in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Medscape spoke with Anthony Cannon, MD, a psychiatrist resident at Northwestern University in Chicago, about his new study exploring the effects of spiritually and religiosity on quality of life (QOL) in cancer survivors.[1]

Medscape: What were the objectives of your study?

Dr Cannon: We conducted a prospective cohort study of cancer patients after treatment to determine the relationship of spirituality and religiosity with patient QOL at 1 year.

The National Cancer Institute defines spirituality as an individual's sense of peace or purpose and feelings about the meaning of life in general. Religiosity can be a conduit for spirituality in the context of specific beliefs and practices, usually in conjunction with other people who hold the same beliefs.

On the basis of that construct, an individual can be spiritual, religious, both, or none.

Anthony J. Cannon, MD

We compared those with low spirituality/low religiosity, high spirituality/low religiosity, low spiritually/high religiosity, and high spirituality/high religiosity. We wanted to see what effect spirituality and religiosity had on QOL and whether religiosity worked synergistically or independently.

A total of 551 patients completed an initial questionnaire (baseline), with the same questionnaire administered at 6- and 12-month follow-up. The patients in our study underwent treatment for various cancers at an academic medical center between 2006 and 2008. We measured QOL with the Short Form-12 (SF-12), a validated scale which asks patients to rate various aspects of their physical and mental QOL.

Medscape: What did your findings reveal about the relationship between spirituality, religiosity, and QOL?

Dr Cannon: In terms of physical QOL, we found that religious patients had better QOL if they were highly spiritual. For mental QOL, we found a significant difference between the extreme groups (low spirituality/low religiosity and high spirituality/high religiosity), but our findings for mental QOL had another level of subtlety which raises a question as to what the role of religiosity is in mental QOL.

For example, among patients who have low levels of religiosity, patients who are highly spiritual have better mental QOL. Similarly, among patients who are highly religious, those who were highly spiritual had better QOL. However, among patients who were highly spiritual, we failed to detect a significant difference in mental QOL when comparing patients with high and low levels of religiosity.


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