The 35th Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) Congress

Humoring Your Patients

Laughter has long been rumored to have healing properties, and now a team of researchers from Hawaii has put that rumor to the test in a randomized study presented at the 35th annual meeting of the Oncology Nursing Society. Fifty patients undergoing chemotherapy to treat cancer were assigned to watch a 45-minute DVD, with one group viewing humorous content and the other group viewing non-humorous content.           
Before the patients watched the DVD, investigators took baseline measures of their symptoms using the Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale (ESAS), evaluated their stress level according to the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Index (STAI-S), and tested their saliva for levels of immunoglobulin-A (IgA) and cortisol. These same tests were performed immediately after participants finished viewing their respective DVDs.  As part of the study, the researchers also interviewed patients and caregivers about their perceptions of the entire study experience. They used student T tests to analyze any variation in measures between baseline and post-viewing of the DVD.
Compared with baseline ESAS scores, patients who watched the humorous DVD subsequently demonstrated significant decreases in cancer- and chemotherapy-related symptoms (P = .04). Anxiety levels as assessed by STAI-S score also declined significantly (P = .03). Salivary IgA levels in the group that watched the humorous DVD increased, suggesting improved immune response (P = .03), though the difference between the two groups was not statistically significant.            

Interviews of participants following the DVD viewing showed that patients who watched the humorous DVD felt better physically and psychologically. They attributed these boosts to feeling more positive and relaxed after watching the DVD, which they said distracted them from the stress of their illness and the unpleasant effects of treatment.

This was only a small study, and it may be premature to suggest adopting a Patch Adams routine in an effort to humor your patients. The findings do support the idea of humor serving as a complement to pharmacological therapy when seeking to manage cancer symptoms and adverse effects related to chemotherapy. Humor is an "inexpensive, efficient, and effective intervention," the researchers concluded.

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