July 18, 2008 / 5:40 PM / 12 years ago

"Emotional" writing may help ease cancer pain

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Some cancer patients may find that putting their emotions down in writing helps improve their pain and general well-being, a study suggests.

Such writing, part of a concept called “narrative” medicine, has been seen as a way to aid communication between seriously ill patients and their doctors.

But the act of writing, itself, may also help patients better understand themselves and their needs, according to the study team, led by Dr. M. Soledad Cepeda of Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston.

To look at the question, they randomly assigned 234 cancer patients to one of three groups: one that was asked to perform narrative writing; one that filled out a standard questionnaire about pain symptoms; and one that stayed with standard care only.

All of the study patients were suffering from at least moderate levels of pain from their disease. Those in the narrative-writing group were asked to spend 20 minutes per week, for three weeks, writing about the ways in which cancer was affecting their daily lives.

At the study’s start and then once a week for eight weeks, patients in all three groups completed a standard questionnaire about their well-being and rated their pain levels.

In general, Cepeda’s team found, patients in the writing group who were open about their emotions showed less pain and greater well-being over time than the rest of the study subjects.

Such effects were not seen in patients whose writing was relatively unemotional, the researchers report in the Journal of Pain & Symptom Management.

The findings suggest that the emotional release of writing, specifically, is what helps patients deal with their cancer pain, according to Cepeda’s team. However, they add, it’s also possible that the most seriously ill patients find it more difficult to write about their feelings.

More studies are needed, the researchers conclude, to see whether encouraging seriously ill patients to reveal their emotions in writing benefits their well-being. In addition, they say, studies should look at whether verbally telling one’s “story” has positive effects.

SOURCE: Journal of Pain & Symptom Management, June 2008.

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