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Laughter therapy for cancer patients

When a loved one receives a devastating health diagnosis such as cancer, it can leave your head spinning. Questions about treatment and survival, paired with feelings of devastation, sympathy and grief can quickly become overwhelming. Even when doctors are hopeful, you wonder if things will ever be OK again. You wonder what type of quality of life your loved one will be left with. While navigating through a cancer diagnosis may be one of the worst experiences of your life, there is hope for loved ones who may be suffering. Preliminary research published in PLOS One found what may be a small but significant light hiding in a dark tunnel.


Researchers in Japan conducted a controlled trial with 56 patients who had been diagnosed with cancer, to determine the effects of laughter therapy on quality of life. The patients received four sessions of laughter therapy over the course of 6-7 weeks. According to researchers, the sessions began with a “laughter yoga routine,” involving stretching, clapping and body movement. That routine was followed by live performances of Rakugo — a form of Japanese comedy performed by a storyteller, or Manzai — a traditional Japanese stand-up comedy performed by two entertainers.

The trail showed that the laughter therapy sessions were associated with improvements in self-reported cognitive functioning as well as pain reductions. Researchers explained, “With regard to the mechanism of cognitive function improvement, the positive emotions induced or accompanied by laughter may have enabled patients to reduce the stress response and ease tension by decreasing stress-making hormones such as cortisol, epinephrine and growth hormone; this in turn can have a positive effect on the cognitive functioning of patients.”

Previous studies have shown that laughter therapy can also help increase pain tolerance and reduce the perception of pain, thanks in part to the release of endorphins provided by laughter.

While laughter may be the furthest thing from your mind when a loved one receives a devastating diagnosis, it’s probably safe to bet that it’s missing from their life. Considering the positive effects laughter seems to have on pain, cognitive function, stress, the immune system and quality of life, it may be just what the doctor ordered.

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