The importance of humour in oncology: a survey of patients undergoing radiotherapy
Background Humour has long been considered an important coping tool for patients with cancer, but published quantitative data about its significance are limited. The purpose of our study was to survey patients with cancer undergoing radiotherapy regarding their opinions about the use of humour in their care.
Methods An anonymous 35-item questionnaire evaluating the patient experience, including the value of humour, was developed by an interdisciplinary team of health care providers (hcps) working within the Radiation Medicine program. This anonymous, voluntary, paper-based survey for self-completion required approximately 10 minutes to finish and was administered during the fall of 2018 and the spring of 2019.
Results For the 199 patients who completed the survey [108 women, 89 men (2 respondents did not specify)], median age was 68 years. That group represents approximately 30%–35% of the patients on treatment during the study period. Almost all respondents (86%) indicated that, during their visits to the cancer centre, it was “somewhat important” or “very important” for health care providers (hcps) to use appropriate humour, and 61% of respondents indicated using humour “frequently” or “always” when dealing with their individual cancers. Most respondents (79%) said that humour decreased anxiety, and 86% indicated that laughing was considered “somewhat important” or “very important.” Approximately 3% of respondents even listed “sense of humour” as being the most important quality that they looked for in their interactions with their hcps.
Conclusions Cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy clearly view humour as being important for coping and dealing with their disease, and oncology hcps should routinely consider incorporating the use of appropriate humour into the care that they provide.