Magazine article Science News

Cancer Support-Group Data Challenged

Magazine article Science News

Cancer Support-Group Data Challenged

Article excerpt

In recent years, carefully designed studies documenting the benefits of support groups for cancer patients have revitalized research in this area. Perhaps the most influential of these studies, directed by psychiatrist David Spiegel of the Stanford University School of Medicine, found that breast cancer patients randomly placed in weekly support groups for one year lived markedly longer than controls -- patients randomly assigned only to regular medical care (SN: 11/4/89, p.302).

But debate has now surfaced concerning the actual effects of Spiegel's intervention and the ethics of denying psychological treatment for cancer to control groups in the name of science. Several researchers discuss these issues in the spring ADVANCES, a journal that publishes articles describing research on the inrerplay of mind and body.

Psychologist Lawrence L. LeShan, who has studied the relationship of emotions to cancer progression since 1950 and now practices in New York City, launched the debate in the same journal last year. "We're dealing an important, unresolved question," LeShan asserts. "Did Spiegel's design extend the life span of the experimental group or shorten that of the control group? Or both?" Many cancer patients harbor a strong sense of rejection by others, LeShan maintains. When researchers tell them about a potentially helpful procedure but then withhold the intervention from some patients in order to obtain a suitable control group, feelings of rejection -- along with death rates -- may soar among controls, he argues. …

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