The benefits of prayer on mood and well-being of breast cancer survivors

  • Ellen G. LevineEmail author
  • Caryn Aviv
  • Grace Yoo
  • Cheryl Ewing
  • Alfred Au
Original Article



Prayer is becoming more widely acknowledged as a way to cope with cancer. The goal of this study was to compare differences in use of prayer between breast cancer survivors from different ethnic groups and examine how use of prayer is related to mood and quality of life.


This study used a mixed methods design. One hundred and seventy-five breast cancer survivors participated in a longitudinal study of survivorship. Women completed in-depth qualitative interviews and a battery of measures including quality of life, spirituality, social support, and mood.


Eighty-one percent of the women prayed. There were no significant differences between the groups for any of the psychological, social support, or quality of life variables with the exception of higher benefit finding and spiritual well-being among those who prayed. The data did show that women who prayed were able to find more positive contributions from their cancer experience than women who did not pray. The interviews showed that those who prayed tended to be African American or Asian, Catholic or Protestant. The prayers were for petitioning, comfort, or praise. Some of the women stated that they had difficulty praying for themselves.


While there seems to be few differences in terms of standardized measures of quality of life, social support, and mood between those who prayed and those who did not, the interviews showed that certain ethnic minority groups seem to find more comfort in prayer, felt closer to God, and felt more compassion and forgiveness than Caucasian women.


Prayer Spirituality Breast cancer Ethnic differences Quality of life Psychological 



This research was supported by a Research Infrastructure in Minority Institutions (RIMI) grant 5 P20 MD000544-02 from the National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities, National Institutes of Health, to San Francisco State University. The authors would like to acknowledge the help of our research assistants: Yaffa Alter, Heather Law, Erin McCoy, Ana Freire, Mariaelena Gonzalez, Regina Lagman, Mabel Lam, Beverly Lynn, Sann Situ, Chris Van Onselen, Jacqueline Bishop, Shelley Volz, Ivy Wong, Gloria Boehm, Tina Chan, Julie Armin, Ann Gilliard, Qiu Chen, Sachiko Reed, and Laureen Hom.


  1. 1.
    Ambs AH, Miller MF, Smith AW, Goldstein MS, Hsiao A-F, Ballard-Barbash R (2007) Religious and spiritual practices and identification among individuals living with cancer and other chronic disease. J Soc Integr Oncol 5:53–60PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ang DC, Ibrahim SA, Burant CJ, Siminoff LA, Kwoh CK (2002) Ethnic differences in the perception of prayer and consideration of joint arthroplasty. Med Care 40:471–476PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Antoni MH, Lehman JM, Kilbourn KM, Boyers AE, Culver JL, Alferi SM, Yount SE, McGregor BA, Arena PL, Harris SD, Price AA, Carver CS (2001) Cognitive-behavioral stress management intervention decreases the prevalence of depression and enhances benefit finding among women under treatment for early-stage breast cancer. Health Psychol 20:20–32PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Ashing KT, Padilla G, Tejero J, Kagawa-Singer M (2003) Understanding the breast cancer experience of Asian American women. Psychooncology 12:38–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Ashing-Giwa KT, Padilla G, Tejero J, Kraemer J, Wright K, Coscarelli A, Clayton S, Williams I, Hills D (2004) Understanding the breast cancer experience of women: a qualitative study of African American, Asian American, Latina and Caucasian cancer survivors. Psychooncology 13:408–428PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Barnes PM, Powell-Griner E, McFann K, Nahin RL (2004) Complementary and alternative medicine use among adults: United States, 2002. Adv Data Vital Health Stat 343:1–19Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Benson H (1996) Timeless healing: the power of biology and belief. Scribner, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Bloom JR, Stewart SL, Chang S, Banks PJ (2004) Then and now: quality of life of young breast cancer survivors. Psychooncology 13:147–160 doi: 10.1002/pon.794 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Carver CS, Antoni MH (2004) Finding benefit in breast cancer during the year after diagnosis predicts better adjustment 5 to 8 years after diagnosis. Health Psychol 26:595–598CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Cella DF (1997) Manual: functional assessment of chronic illness therapy (FACIT) Scales. Center on outcomes, research, and education. Evanston Northwestern Healthcare and Northwestern University, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Coggin C, Shaw-Perry M (2006) Breast cancer survivorship: expressed needs of black women. J Psychosoc Oncol 24:107–122 doi: 10.130O/J077v241~04-06 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Cohen S, Doyle WJ, Skoner DP, Rabin BS, Gwaltney JM (1997) Social ties and susceptibility to the common cold. JAMA 277:1940–1944PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Cohen S, Mermelstein R, Kamarck T, Hoberman H (1985) Measuring the functional components of social support. In: Sarason IG, Sarason BR (eds) Social support: theory, research and application. Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, Netherlands, pp 73–94Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Cotton SP, Levine EG, Fitzpatrick CM, Dold KH, Targ EF (1999) Exploring the relationships among spiritual well-being, quality of life, and psychological adjustment in women with breast cancer. Psychooncology 8:429–438PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Creswell JW (1994) Research design: qualitative and quantitative approaches. Sage Publications, Thousand OaksGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Earhart HB (2002) Structures of the Christian life. In: Earhart HB (ed) Religious traditions of the World. HarperCollins, San Francisco, p 537Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Ellison CG (1986) Turning to prayer: social and situational antecedents of religious coping among African Americans. Rev Relig Res 38:111–131CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Gall TL, Cornblat MW (2002) Breast cancer survivors give voice: a qualitative analysis of spiritual factors in long-term adjustment. Psychooncology 11:524–535PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Goldstein MS, Brown ER, Ballard Barbash R, Morgenstern H, Bastani R, Lee J, Gatto N, Ambs A (2005) The use of complementary and alternative medicine among California adults with and without cancer. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2:557–565 doi: 10.1093/ecam/neh138 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Goldstein MS, Lee JH, Ballard-Barbash R, Brown ER (2008) The use and perceived benefit of complementary and alternative medicine among Californians with cancer. Psychooncology 17:19–25PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Hamilton JB, Powe BD, Pollard AB, Lee KJ, Felton AM (2007) Spirituality among African American cancer survivors. Cancer Nurs 30:309–316PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Hann DM, Baker F, Roberts CS, Witt C, McDonald J, Livingston M, Ruiterman J, Ampela R, Crammer C, Kaw O (2005) Use of complementary therapies among breast and prostate cancer patients during treatment: a multisite study. Integr Cancer Ther 4:294–300PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Harris JI, Schoneman SW, Carrera SR (2005) Preferred prayer styles and anxiety control. J Rel Health 44:403–412 doi: 10.1007/s10943-005-7179-6 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Howard AF, Balneaves LG, Bottoroff JL (2007) Ethnocultural women’s experiences of breast cancer. Cancer Nurs 30:E27–E35PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Jenkins RA, Pargament KI (1995) Religion and spirituality as resources for coping with cancer. J Psychosoc Oncol 13:51–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Jick TD (1979) Mixing qualitative and quantitative methods: triangulation in action. Admin Sci Q 24:602–611CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Johnson SC, Spilka B (1991) Coping with breast cancer: the roles of clergy and faith. J Relig Health 30:21–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Kearney MH (1999) Understanding women’s recovery from illness and trauma. Sage, Thousand OaksGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Koenig HG (2004) Religion, spirituality, and medicine: research findings and implications for clinical practice. South Med J 97:1194–1200PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Levine EG (2001) Jewish perspectives on illness and healing. Rutledge, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Levine EG, Targ E (2002) Spiritual correlates of functional well-being in women with breast cancer. Integr Cancer Ther 1:166–174PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Levine EG, Yoo G, Aviv C, Ewing C, Au A (2007) Ethnicity and spirituality in breast cancer survivors. J Cancer Survivor 1:212–225 doi: 10.1007/s11764-007-0024-z CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Lopez EDS, Eng E, Randall-David E, Robinson N (2005) Quality of life concerns of African-American breast cancer survivors within rural North Carolina: blending the techniques of photovoice and grounded theory. Qual Health Res 15:99–115PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Mansfield CJ, Mitchell J, King DE (2002) The doctor as God’s mechanic? Beliefs in the Southeastern United States. Soc Sci Med 54:399–409PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Masters KS, Spielmans GI (2007) Prayer and Health: review, meta-analysis, and research agenda. J Behav Med 30:329–338PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Mathison S (1998) Why triangulate? Educ Res 17:13–17Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    McCaffrey AM, Eisenberg DM, Legedza ATR, Davis RB, Phillips RS (2004) Prayer for health concerns. Results of a national survey on prevalence and patters of use. Arch Intern Med 164:858–862PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    McNair DM, Lorr M, Droppleman LF (1981) Profile of mood states, 2nd edn. Educational and Industrial Testing Service, San DiegoGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Meraviglia M (2006) Effects of spirituality in breast cancer survivors. Onc Nurs Forum 33:E1–E7 doi: 10.1188/06 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    Montbriand M (1993) Freedom of choice: an issue concerning alternative therapies chosen by patients with cancer. Onc Nurs Forum 20:1195–1201Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Morris DA (1982) The effect of religious pilgrimage upon anxiety, depression, and religious attitude. Psychol Med 12:291–294PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. 42.
    Musgrave CF, Allen CE, Allen GJ (2002) Spirituality and health for women of color. Am J Pub Health 92:557–560CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 43.
    Oxman TE, Freeman DH, Manheimer ED (1995) Lack of social participation or religious strength and comfort as risk factors for death after cardiac surgery in the elderly. Psychosom Med 57:5–15PubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. 44.
    Peterman AH, Fitchett G, Brady MJ, Hernandez L, Cella D (2002) Measuring spiritual well-being in people with cancer: the functional assessment of chronic illness therapy-spiritual well-being scale (FACIT-Sp). Ann Behav Med 24:49–58PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 45.
    Shahabi L, Powell LH, Musick M, Pargament KJ, Thoreson CE, Williams D, Underwood L, Ory MA (2002) Correlates of self-perceptions of spirituality in American adults. Ann Behav Med 24:59–68PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 46.
    Shaw B, Han JY, Kim E, Gustafson D, Hawkins R, Cleary J, McTavish F, Pingree S, Eliason P, Lumpkins C (2007) Effects of prayer and religious expression within computer support groups on women with breast cancer. Psychooncology 16:676–687PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. 47.
    Strauss AL (1987) Qualitative analysis for social scientists. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  48. 48.
    Taylor EJ, Outlaw FH, Bernardo TR, Roy A (1999) Spiritual conflicts associated with praying about cancer. Psychooncology 8:386–394PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. 49.
    Tomich PL, Helgeson VS (2004) Is finding something good in the bad always good? Benefit finding among women with breast cancer. Health Psychol 23:16–23PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. 50.
    VandeCreek L, Rogers E, Lester J (1999) Use of alternative therapies among breast cancer outpatients compared with the general population. Alt Ther 5:71–76Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Yates JS, Mustian KM, Morrow GR, Gillies LJ, Padmanaban D et al (2005) Prevalence of complementary and alternative medicine use in cancer patients during treatment. Support Care Cancer 13:806–811 doi: 10.1007/s00520-004-0770-7 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ellen G. Levine
    • 1
    Email author
  • Caryn Aviv
    • 2
  • Grace Yoo
    • 1
  • Cheryl Ewing
    • 3
  • Alfred Au
    • 4
  1. 1.Public Research Institute, Biobehavioral Research CenterSan Francisco State UniversitySan FranciscoUSA
  2. 2.School of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences Core Curriculum and the Center for Judaic StudiesUniversity of DenverDenverUSA
  3. 3.University of California, San FranciscoSan FranciscoUSA
  4. 4.University of California, San FranciscoSan FranciscoUSA

Personalised recommendations