A randomized, blinded study of the impact of intercessory prayer on spiritual well-being in patients with cancer

Altern Ther Health Med. Sep-Oct 2012;18(5):18-27.


Context: Cochrane reviews have analyzed multiple studies on intercessory prayer that treatment teams had added to health interventions; however, the reviewers could draw no conclusions about the efficacy of prayer because the studies showed either positive or no effects and used different endpoints and methodologies.

Objective: The study intended to determine whether researchers could measure the impact of intercessory prayer on spiritual well-being.

Design: The research team conducted a randomized blinded trial of intercessory prayer added to normal cancer treatment with participants agreeing to complete quality of life (QOL) and spiritual well-being scales at baseline and 6 months later. The research team had shown previously that spiritual well-being is an important, unique domain in the assessment of QOL. Participants remained blinded to the randomization. Based on a previous study, the research team determined that the study required a sample of 1000 participants to detect small differences (P = .05, 2-tailed, 80% power). SETTING The research team performed this research at the Royal Adelaide Hospital Cancer Centre, South Australia, Australia.

Participants: Participants were patients at the cancer center between June 2003 and May 2008. Of 999 participants with mixed diagnoses who completed the baseline questionnaires, 66.6% provided follow-up. The average age was 61 years, and most participants were married/de facto (living with partners), were Australians or New Zealanders living in Australia, and were Christian. Intervention The research team asked an external group offering Christian intercessory prayer to add the study's participants to their usual prayer lists. They received details about the participants, but this information was not sufficient to identify them. Outcome Measures The research team used the Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy-Spiritual Well-being questionnaire to assess spiritual wellbeing and QOL. Results The intervention group showed significantly greater improvements over time for the primary endpoint of spiritual well-being as compared to the control group (P = .03, partial η2 = .01). The study found a similar result for emotional well-being (P = .04, partial η2 = .01) and functional well-being (P = .06, partial η2 = .01).

Conclusions: Participants with cancer whom the research team randomly allocated to the experimental group to receive remote intercessory prayer showed small but significant improvements in spiritual well-being.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Attitude to Health
  • Australia
  • Faith Healing / psychology*
  • Faith Healing / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Quality of Life / psychology*
  • Religion and Psychology
  • Self Care / psychology*
  • Self Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Single-Blind Method
  • Spirituality*
  • Survivors / psychology*
  • Survivors / statistics & numerical data