Palliative and Supportive Care

Original Articles

Do spiritual patients want spiritual interventions?: A qualitative exploration of underserved cancer patients' perspectives on religion and spirituality

Emma M. Steina1 c1, Evelyn Kolidasa2 and Alyson Moadela2

a1 Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, Bronx, New York

a2 Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Department of Epidemiology & Population Health, Bronx, New York


Objective: This study examines religion and spirituality among advanced cancer patients from an underserved, ethnically-diverse population by exploring patient conceptualizations of religion and spirituality, the role of religion and spirituality in coping with cancer, and patient interest in spiritual support.

Method: Qualitative semi-structured interviews were conducted with patients who had participated in a study of a “mind-body” support group for patients with all cancer types. Analysis based on grounded theory was utilized to identify themes and theoretical constructs.

Results: With regard to patient conceptualizations of religion and spirituality, three categories emerged: (1) Spirituality is intertwined with organized religion; (2) Religion is one manifestation of the broader construct of spirituality; (3) Religion and spirituality are completely independent, with spirituality being desirable and religion not. Religion and spirituality played a central role in patients' coping with cancer, providing comfort, hope, and meaning. Patients diverged when it came to spiritual support, with some enthusiastic about interventions incorporating their spiritual values and others stating that they already get this support through religious communities.

Significance of results: Spirituality plays a central role in the cancer experience of this underserved ethnically-diverse population. While spirituality seems to be a universal concern in advanced cancer patients, the meaning of spirituality differs across individuals, with some equating it with organized religion and others taking a more individualized approach. It is important that psychosocial interventions are developed to address this concern. Future research is needed to further explore the different ways that patients conceptualize spirituality and to develop spiritually-based treatments that are not “one size fits all.”

(Received October 07 2012)

(Accepted January 06 2013)


  • Oncology;
  • Minority;
  • Spirituality;
  • Patient Preference;
  • Advanced Cancer


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Emma Stein, Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, 1165 Morris Park Avenue, Bronx, NY 10461. E-mail: