Hoping to strengthen their stressed-out immune systems, many people with cancer join support groups, attend yoga classes or take other steps to lift their moods.




Do these mind-body interventions help prolong life — A recent study of 1,093 patients with advanced head and neck cancer suggests they do not.




The report, published in October in the journal Cancer, found no difference in life expectancy of patients with a strong sense of emotional well-being compared with those with high levels of emotional distress.




Interpreting the findings, lead author James C. Coyne, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, said that it was unlikely that stress-reduction activities would prolong patients' lives. The study should reassure cancer patients who blame themselves when the disease overtakes them, Coyne added.




"People are told to have a fighting spirit, and if the disease beats them, they think it's their fault," he said.




Researchers have been studying the role of emotions in cancer for more than 20 years, with mixed results. Yet many patients and their doctors are convinced that a patient's emotional state influences cancer progression, a belief reinforced by a plethora of self-help books.