April 14, 2014 — Putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and pouring out inner thoughts seems to improve several quality of life aspects for cancer patients, according to a recent study

published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. In the study, 277 recently diagnosed renal carcinoma patients were randomly asked to write either about neutral topics, or about their deepest thoughts and emotions regarding their cancer experience, on four separate occasions over ten days. Multiple measures of quality of life were assessed over the following ten months. At the end of the ten months, patients who did the soul-baring exercise had improved cancer symptoms, physical functioning, and possibly less fatigue, than patients who wrote on neutral topics.Expressive writing helped both men and women, regardless of individual coping mechanisms and social support. How exactly this Tolstoy effect helps is not fully clear, but an area of the brain involved in soothing emotional distress also plays a part in emotional language. Intrusive thoughts and avoidance behaviors can have negative effects on the immune and endocrine systems, which can worsen cancer-related symptoms. Giving those thoughts an outlet may decrease stress, which in turn can impact health. Depression and stress often occur together, and depression has been linked to shorter survival times for cancer patients. While this finding was not investigated specifically for men with prostate cancer, buying a notebook and finding some quiet time to reflect, might be a good idea.

Dr. Andrea Miyahira has a PhD in cancer immunology, and is Manager of Scientific Programs at the Prostate Cancer Foundation.