Can laughter really help in treating cancer?

11 answers | Last updated: Dec 03, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

I've seen articles that say laughter helps cancer patients heal. I'm wondering if laughter might help my father, who has stomach cancer, and if so, how we go about getting some humor into our lives?


Expert Answers

Gloria Nelson is a senior oncology social worker at the Montefiore-Einstein Medical Center in Bronx, New York.

In my work running support groups for cancer patients, I've found that humor and laughter are highly important. That's why I call my support group Strength Through Laughter. Most people going through cancer treatment are in for a very bumpy ride, and laughter helps them face the ups and downs with resilience and a positive outlook. And yes, there have been studies done showing that laughter is therapeutic for cancer patients. It helps distract patients from pain and relieves stress.

It doesn't matter what you do, as long as it makes your dad laugh. You might try renting a funny movie and watching it together. Memorize the best lines and say them to each other again later. You might even write some down to share with other family members. When the newspaper comes in the morning, read the funnies together. Tack your favorites up on the refrigerator to read again later.

And never underestimate the power of jokes. In our support group, we bring new jokes to the meetings every week. We have different categories: clean jokes, cancer jokes, and lastly spicy jokes, which seem to be the most popular ones. We encourage the patients to share funny experiences and those unforgettable moments that make you chuckle. You might suggest that friends who come to visit bring a new joke or a silly story. Nothing helps put things in perspective like humor. Humor feeds hope and the attitude that "I have cancer but the cancer doesn't have me." When cancer patients and their families feel frightened, laughter helps them connect to others.


Community Answers

Lolly answered...
I of course don’t know what kind of humor your dad has, but YOU might. And it might be funny old stuff. WE bought my dad some headphones that work with the TV â€" so he can turn the volume way up and not drive my step mom crazy. He LOVES: Victor Borge (sp), and Don Knotts kind of thing. Remember the Apple Dumpling Gang? Good luck. And - if you find any of this stuff funny yourself. You don't have to tell anyone.

Blondemom37 answered...

dealing with cancer is hard especially with a 12 year old and a 17 year old special needs son scheduling radiationand trying to take care of my family, work, and run my non profit organization is all but impossible i could use some advice on how im gonna get thru radiation therapy  5days a week for  6weeks and continue living what do you do to keep energy up


Octoman answered...

I am taking the the laughing cure at presant, amazing,stuff,I am so lucky Carl Jung's books and talks (have a recording to which I have listened to for many many years ) gave me insights into life and god, So I love people and life and laughter. I find having a sense of humuor is a great boon, At hospital this past Teusday The patients were morbid,so I had a great time talking to the nurses and my surgeon."will I live Long enough to enjoy my christmas dinner?Yes said the surgeon , willI live to eighty? Maybe,he said I am eighty next year. I try to laugh with every one I meet, it is amazing how the most miserable face can light up with laughter,

I asked a depressed counter girl,how she was? she said "I feel like kicking someone,I bent down "help you self" I left her laughing,of course ,I could have ended up badly bruised,a risk worth taking. Make every day christmas,I love you all,Love is a great help too,


Octoman answered...

Laughter?yes me again, I am the carer for me dear wife making her laugh is hard but worth while I have made her laugh twice so far today 9 am Have The dustmen been?"I answered "NO!the wife was suprised,"but the midnight fairy has,the refuse bags have gone," Later; My wife shouted across,the room A new babies name she has just discovered "Diana".I said ,"Piana(piano)funny name for a girl" . Yes pathetic I agree,and my humour can fall on deaf ears but I can usually repair the damage. Still love you all,Enjoy christmas.


Octoman answered...

Thought THe morbid patient next to me in the waiting room at the hosptial. I dont mind the wait if I can talk and laugh,so I was trying to get him to talk," are not a talker are you?" "No I listen "he said " great I am a talker," (you can tell cant you?) "I dont want to listen"he replied. So it was "nurse,How long do I have to wait?"cannot say"nurse no1. nurse no2 "how many patients are waiting for my surgeon?"I ask. I will find out "she said ,later, "you are next"wow I looked at nurse no1,she said your fault,you asked the wrong question. Silly me,we had a great laugh though,more christmas.cheers and best wishes I will not return as I am going back to my padded cell and my wife will lock me in,


Yang answered...

Laughter and our people are so healing...both have so much to do with survival.Six months of chemo and 7 weeks of radiation,followed by surgery the day after I finished radiation...all supported by a lovely family,good friends and chemo nurses who are all angels(for real)and radiation folks as well.I feel so much gratitude to my doctors and all the people involved in my care...lots of laughter combined with kind compassion was a formula for success.Had the treatments not "worked" and my survival was at risk...I had so much love and so many great experiences that my "finish" would have also been a hopeful time helped by love and laughter.Hope springs eternal in many situations and laughter is the music of life.


Thomas54 answered...

I'm reminded of the M * A * S * H film and tv series. Laughter and hi jinx were a necessity to get them through those times. I recall news reports from scientific journals over the years that even simply smiling can be beneficial, even when the smile is formed consciously and not in response to humour or another person. And there are even health workshops in which attendees practice laughing outrageously. Huge guffaws. It certainly lifts the spirits, but I'm sure it also has a physical invigorating effect.


Remyellen answered...

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005 and my husband of 25 years decided to walk out. I got all the treatment I need. Thank God, I am in remission for that. In 2006, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. I have had internal and external radiation and chemotherapy for three months. A year later, the cancer resurface and have had a radical hysterectomy modified. I am still being followed and hope to be told that I am in remission in 2013. I felt pretty good myself. And yes, laughter and attitude makes a huge difference in cancer patient's life. I make jokes about myself and my condition. I do not like people saying "I am sorry" or "I will be praying for you". This is because I know cancer is only a part of my body and I am not the only one. I am bigger than cancer. I am in control not the cancer. About prayers, I truly appreciate those who offered but truly that is my own personal thing to do. I look at my condition as an opportunity for growth, how to be strong and remain positive for others. I used to know a lot, I mean many people but most if not all disappeared when I got sick. It's okay, I told myself, I can do this alone. I am not really alone because I asked GOD to give me all the courage and strength HE could give; and yes, HE HAS GIVEN ME THAT. What other things I do?I do research about the disease process on several sites as possible to educate myself. I do volunteer work at local elementary school working Kindergartens with reading and writing.. I also volunteer at rest homes for elderly. I also do journals on and off. Of course this is me and what work for me might not work for others but I find it very soul fulfilling for anyone to call or visit and just say " I was just thinking about you". Big hugs are just as fine itself. Please don't pity me, we all know life is a challenge itself. I feel blessed in many ways, and I still got my life and enjoying every moment of it my way. Reminiscence and reflections works wonders with the elderly population. And please avoid discussing with the patient their condition. Remember you come to visit to have a quality time with them.


Kay bee answered...

A very close friend has been diagnosed with breast cancer and undergone masectomy last month. This article inspires me to bring more laughter into her life so she can have victory and control over the disease. Remyellen, thanks for sharing what you have gone thru, and in particular the tip about not discussing her condition with the affected person. I salute your spirit and it makes me hope and believe my friend will also be able to pull thru. Shall be grateful for any tips on what we friends can do to help her face the challenge and handle life better. She has two teenage daughters and her husband seems to be badly shaken after the diagnosis.


Remyellen answered...

Hello Kay,

I have four children myself; 3 boys and 1 girl who is the youngest. They are all grown. My 2nd son who is autistic and my oldest son with his 6 year old son lives with me. At first I was open and discussing with my children my condition with the intent of preparing them for the worst. It was the biggest mistake on my part for I feel that I broke their heart before my time. The devastation was too much and I have to learn and keep things to myself. One thing I make a point each day is spend as much quality time with them. Give them hugs each night before I go to sleep and for my two others who do now live at home, I sent them text messages just in case I go to sleep and don't wake up the next day. I have high regards for all the advancement in science and technology and have faith and trust in the expertise of all medical professionals. Recognizing these gave me more space to breathe in and cope with my condition.... I will be thinking about you and your friend. I will be praying for an army of angels to be send to your way.. Good luck!