While there are few scientific studies, many health professionals advocate laughter and humor to help patients cope with cancer treatment. Even journals, such as the Journal of Clinical Oncology, publish articles about the value of humor.

The Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor defines therapeutic humor as "any invention that promotes health and wellness by stimulation of a playful discovery, expression or appreciation of the absurdity or incongruity of life's situations. This intervention may enhance health or be used as a complementary treatment of illness to facilitate healing or coping, whether physical, emotional, cognitive, or spiritual."

Humor reduces stress and pain by providing a much-needed diversion and can help patients feel better about themselves. Psychologist LeslieBeth Wish, Ed.D., says, "Since laughter triggers pleasure hormones such as endorphins, laughing can also spark happy memories, which in turn, can make cancer patients reflect on past events that brought pleasure as well as meaning and purpose. Most of us want to believe we fulfilled some goals and contributed to others."

Some hospitals and treatment centers are incorporating humor into their holistic cancer care. At the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, for example, leader-led Laugh Clubs take patients through laugh-related exercises, including fake laughter and laughter greetings. Some cancer facilities have created specific rooms where patients find humorous material.

You may have seen the movie Patch Adams, staring funny man Robin Williams, who portrayed real life physician and clown Patch Adams. Adams believes laughter, joy, and creativity are an integral part of the healing process. He says, "I interpret my experiences in life as being happy. I want, as a doctor, to say it does matter to your health to be happy. It may be one of the most important health factors in your life."

Humor also plays a role in facilitating communication and trust between patients, families, and the cancer-care team. It relieves tension in intimate questioning or examination situations and provides a human aspect to clinical doctor/patient relationships.

You can incorporate moments of humor into your daily life.

  • Watch funny movies
  • Laugh with friends
  • Read the comics
  • Play games

For inspiration, visit www.cancerclub.com, where cancer-survivor Christine Clifford, author of Laugh 'till it Heals, writes about the humorous side of cancer.

Musician, artist, poet, and cancer patient Buck Cash, established http://www.buckcash.com/cancerisland/, which he describes as a place for "cancer patients to let their hair down, if they have any left after chemotherapy, of course!"

On days when laughing is especially difficult, remember this quote (author unknown): "Laughter may not always add years to your life, but it will add life to your years."

LeslieBeth Wish, EdD, reviewed this article.




American Cancer Society. "Humor Therapy." 1 November 2008. Web.

Cancer Treatment Centers of America. "Laughter Therapy." Web. http://www.cancercenter.com/complementary-alternative-medicine/laughter-therapy.cfm

Patch Adams & Gesundheit Institute. "Patch Adams." Web. http://patchadams.org/Gesundheit_Institute_speakers

Ness, Sheryl M., R.N. "Using humor to help the healing." Blog. Mayo Clinic. Web. 23 October 2010.

Joshua, Anthony M., Cotroneo, Angela, and Clarke, Stephen. " Humor and Oncology."Journal of Clinical Oncology 23 (3) (2005): 645-648. Web.

Bennett, Mary Payne, and Lengacher, Cecile. "Humor and Laughter May Influence Health: II. Complementary Therapies and Humor in a Clinical Population." Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine June 3(2) (2006): 187-190. Web. 24 April 2006.

CancerClub.com. Web.

BuckCash.com. Web.