“Cancer patients often ring a ceremonial bell to celebrate the end of their radiation treatment or chemotherapy. The gesture is meant to signal joy, but it may be producing the opposite effect at healthcare institutions across the country. A team of researchers recently polled more than 200 cancer patients to gauge their feelings about this ritual, which occurs in 82% of National Cancer Institute-designated centers. Lead investigator Patrick Williams, MD, was “surprised” to see his expectations defied. Half of the study group rang the bell at the end of their treatment while the other half did not. Those who opted to take part actually remembered treatment as more stressful than their counterparts who refused, according to a study published recently in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology.
“We expected the bell to improve the memory of treatment distress, but in fact, the opposite occurred,” Williams, a radiation oncologist with the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, at the time of the study, said in a Jan. 22 announcement. “Ringing the bell actually made the memory of treatment worse, and those memories grew even more pronounced as time passed.” He listed several possible reasons for the survey results. Sounding the bell can create a “flashbulb event” for cancer survivors, locking that moment into their brains. However, rather than engraining the joy of beating cancer, it can often lock in the stress of suffering through the disease, Williams said. It also can create false hope for those who might suffer a recurrence or upset nearby patients who are still struggling with treatment.”