From the blog

Empathetic Nurses Have Positive Impact on Cellular Activity in Pleural Mesothelioma Patients

Published: August 16, 2018

A mesothelioma diagnosis and the treatment involved take a dramatic toll on the body and the mind, and with no known cure for mesothelioma, it is understandable that many feel loss of hope and despair. However, a recent study showed that having good mental health can improve treatment outcome, and it is directly related to the caregiver or nurse having a positive attitude and scoring high on the Jefferson Scale of Empathy.

This study published in Psychology Research and Behavior Management found that how treatment affects those suffering from pleural mesothelioma may be directly related to the care they receive through oncology nurses.

From October 2016 to May 2017, 365 lung cancer patients were cared for by 30 different nurses at a hospital in Beijing. Using flow cytometry and the Jefferson Scale of Empathy scientists and researchers were able to measure how a nurse’s demeanor and bed-side manner impacted treatment for those suffering. Flow cytometry is a type of technology that tests and measures active cancer in the immune cells located in the blood, lymph nodes, and bone marrow. T-cells, B-cells and natural killer cells are immune cells located in lung cancer and pleural mesothelioma. Fluid that contains these cells is analyzed using an electronic detection method. Through this method, thousands of particles that make up the physical and chemical characteristics of the fluid are analyzed to determine the levels of cancer activity. This is a highly accurate test for determining types of leukemia and lymphoma, health disorders, and is routinely used within research and clinical trials.

Clinical empathy is a skill that requires a nurse or caregiver to focus on understanding the feelings of their patient. Sympathizing how the patient feels or understanding how the patient acts can improve communication between patient and caregiver while giving a sense of comfort to patients who are clinging to hope, or even life. To accurately measure a physician’s scale of empathy toward a patient, the Jefferson Scale of Empathy was created in 2001 and consists of a 20-item scale measured on the 7-point Likert scale. The empathy measurements are high, moderate, and low.

In this particular study, all patients, regardless of disease severity and life-style admitted had similar levels of cellular immunity. Nurses, based on their Jefferson Scale of Empathy Score were placed in either high, moderate, or low groups. When the patients were discharged, those who were in the high empathy groups showed higher percentages of activity in the immune cells than those who were with nurses that were rated with a lower empathy. The study concludes that the effect of nurses’ empathy and cellular immunity could improve the patient outcome – perhaps even survival – and should be investigated further as a method to take into consideration when treating those with mesothelioma.



Yang N, et. al., Influence of Oncology Nurses’ Empathy on Lung Cancer Patients’ Cellular Immunity,” Psychology Research and Behavior Management, Dovepress (July 31, 2018). [Link]

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