Influence of psychological coping on survival and recurrence in people with cancer: systematic review

BMJ. 2002 Nov 9;325(7372):1066. doi: 10.1136/bmj.325.7372.1066.


Objective: To summarise the evidence on the effect of psychological coping styles (including fighting spirit, helplessness/hopelessness, denial, and avoidance) on survival and recurrence in patients with cancer.

Design: Systematic review of published and unpublished prospective observational studies.

Main outcomes measures: Survival from or recurrence of cancer.

Results: 26 studies investigated the association between psychological coping styles and survival from cancer, and 11 studies investigated recurrence. Most of the studies that investigated fighting spirit (10 studies) or helplessness/hopelessness (12 studies) found no significant associations with survival or recurrence. The evidence that other coping styles play an important part was also weak. Positive findings tended to be confined to small or methodologically flawed studies; lack of adjustment for potential confounding variables was common. Positive conclusions seemed to be more commonly reported by smaller studies, indicating potential publication bias.

Conclusion: There is little consistent evidence that psychological coping styles play an important part in survival from or recurrence of cancer. People with cancer should not feel pressured into adopting particular coping styles to improve survival or reduce the risk of recurrence.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Avoidance Learning
  • Cohort Studies
  • Denial, Psychological
  • Depression / etiology
  • Emotions
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / prevention & control
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / psychology*
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Publication Bias
  • Survivors