A positive attitudinal change towards the disease is noted in cancer patients who did reflective and expressive writing.
The study, led by Nancy P. Morgan, M.A., writing clinician and director of the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center's Arts and Humanities Program, found that writing therapy improved the quality of life for cancer patients.
"Previous research suggests expressive writing may enhance physical and psychological well-being," said Morgan.
"But most of those studies involved three to five writing sessions that were conducted in a controlled laboratory setting. Here, we found that just one writing session in a busy cancer clinic where the patients are frequently interrupted can still have a positive impact on patients," she added.
The study was conducted in the clinic waiting area of the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center between July and November 2006.
It included a pre-writing survey, twenty minutes of expressive writing, a post-writing survey, and an optional follow-up survey that was completed by telephone 3 weeks later.
Seventy-one adult leukemia or lymphoma patients (51 percent male, 49 percent female) attending an appointment with a medical oncologist for treatment or follow-up participated in the study.
All participants completed the pre-survey, while 63 (88 percent) completed the 20-minute expressive writing exercise, responding to prompts including: How has cancer changed you and how do you feel about those changes?
"We were interested in assessing psychological and social outcomes following the writing, including quality of life, benefit finding, and reports of whether the writing changed the way participants thought and felt about their cancer experience," said Morgan.
"Thoughts and feelings, or the cognitive processing and emotions related to cancer, are key writing elements associated with health benefits, according to previous studies. Writing about only the facts has shown no benefit," she added.
The analyses indicated that 49 percent of participants who completed the writing exercise reported that writing changed their thoughts about their illness, while 35 percent reported writing changed they way they felt about their illness.
At the three-week follow-up, 54 percent of those completing all parts of the study reported writing changed their thoughts and 38 percent reported writing changed their feelings about their illness.
"In addition to the quantitative data highlighting participants' responses that the writing changed the way they thought about their cancer experience, we were interested in whether participants indicated in their writing that cancer brought about meaningful changes in their lives," Morgan said.
The study also found that when people used a greater number of positive emotion words in their writing, they also reported more change in how the writing affected their thoughts and feelings about the illness. Greater reports of change in thoughts were significantly related to reports of better physical quality of life at follow-up.
The study is published in The Oncologist.