Spiritual Issues in Supportive Cancer Care

  • Antonella Surbone
  • Tatsuya Konishi
  • Lea Baider


In the lifetime of every person, critical life events can make the greatest demands on the person’s coping ability. Cancer is such an event. The progress of medicine does not necessarily contribute to reduce the stress. By contrast, spirituality plays an important role in fighting the alienation of a life-threatening illness and the alleviation of fear of impending death. Cancer patients often raise their spiritual concerns with their cancer care providers, and the expectation for oncology teams to provide spiritual support within the clinical context is increasing.

Defining spirituality is difficult because it encompasses different intangible dimensions and level of expressions. “Spirit” is the life force that vitalizes human life, through which human beings derive meaning and purpose in their lives. The core of spirituality is universal and it connects with transcendent aspects of human lives, such as the Divine, the Universe, Nature, and Others. Expressions of spirituality vary in individuals and groups, as they interrelate with religion and culture, without superimposing. Each individual’s spirituality and religiosity should be respected when the spiritual care is offered.

Whether and how can the oncology team offer spiritual care to cancer patients is still an open question. The role of chaplains, with specific education as experts spiritual advisors in multicultural and multireligious contexts, is increasing. While trained chaplains are in the best position to assume the primary role of spiritual caregiver, every team member, who has the opportunity to communicate with patients, should acquire the basic skills of spiritual assessment and care. The ideal goal is to offer integrative spiritual care as part of supportive care in cancer, consulting among oncology professionals, chaplains, and community members, in order to meet the needs of patients and their families also in low resource contexts.


Spiritual Care Spiritual Dimension Spiritual Issue Catholic Priest Oncology Team 
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Copyright information

© Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Medicine, Division of Medical OncologyNew York University Medical SchoolNew YorkUSA

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