The Science of Hope: Why and How to Approach the Most Difficult Situations in Oncology

Monday, October 25, 2021 | 11:30 a.m. - 12:45 p.m.

The availability of hope is axiomatic to cancer patients and their loved ones. Arguably, the loss of hope constitutes the most desolate feeling that a human being can harbor. However, oncologists are mindful of false hope, and the need to have patients understand the likely course of their disease. This tension can result in either a patient who does not know their true prognosis, or conversely, a patient who does believe they have agency in their own care, resulting in poor adherence to care and much psychospiritual distress.

However, this is a false dichotomy.

We will demonstrate that hope for all patients is appropriate, necessary and a critical component of quality care. This session will discuss the extensive science of hope: what is its psychoneuroimmunological basis, why it is vitally important, how it is being incorporated in clinical trials and how to cultivate and enhance hope among patients, caregivers and colleagues in a genuine and transparent way. We posit that an individual’s level of hope is often determined by innate personality characteristics and environmental factors, but can also be physiologically influenced by immune modulators, neurotransmitters, affective states and even the underlying disease process of cancer. Mostly, we assert that hope represents a cognitive construct which can be taught and learned as a skill. We argue that hope can be a therapeutic target and review evidence showing the effects of hope-enhancing therapies.

We believe that hope should be part of today’s clinical toolbox and we hypothesize that it may improve adherence and cancer-related outcomes.


Topic Speaker
Moderator and Q&A Sue Evans, MD, MPH, Yale University
Why Hope Matters: The Patient Perspective Kate Bowler, PhD, Duke University, Associate Professor of the History of Christianity in North America, Author, Podcaster, Stage 4 Cancer Survivor
A Working Definition of Hope Anna Ferguson, RN, BSN, Research Nurse, Hope Matters Team, Johns Hopkins University
The Psychoneuroimmunologic Basis of Hope: Soft Emotion, Hard Science Susan Lutgendorf, PhD, University of Iowa, Professor, Psychology and Brain Services
Cultivating and Sustaining Hope in Clinical Practice and in Clinical Trials Ben Corn, MD, Shaare Zedek Medical Center
The Science of Hope

American Society for Radiation Oncology
251 18th Street South, 8th Floor
Arlington, VA 22202
Telephone: 703-502-1550


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