The biology of hope: Inflammatory and neuroendocrine profiles in ovarian cancer patients

Susan K. Lutgendorf, Rachel M. Telles, Brendan Whitney, Premal H. Thaker, George M. Slavich, Michael J. Goodheart, Frank J. Penedo, Alyssa E. Noble, Steven W. Cole, Anil K. Sood, Benjamin W. Corn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Introduction: Although the concept of hope is highly relevant for cancer patients, little is known about its association with cancer-relevant biomarkers. Here we examined how hope was related to diurnal cortisol and interleukin-6 (IL-6), a pro-inflammatory cytokine previously associated with tumor biology and survival in ovarian cancer. Secondly, we examined whether hope and hopelessness are distinctly associated with these biomarkers. Method: Participants were 292 high-grade ovarian cancer patients who completed surveys and provided saliva samples 4x/daily for 3 days pre-surgery to assess diurnal cortisol. Blood (pre-surgery) and ascites were assessed for IL-6. Hope and hopelessness were assessed using standardized survey items from established scales (Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale; Profile of Mood States, Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy). Two hopeless items were z-scored and combined into a composite for analysis. Regression models related these variables to nocturnal cortisol, cortisol slope, plasma and ascites IL-6, adjusting for cancer stage, BMI, age, and depression. Results: Greater hope was significantly related to a steeper cortisol slope, β = −0.193, p = 0.046, and lower night cortisol, β = −0.227, p = 0.018, plasma IL-6, β = −0.142, p = 0.033, and ascites IL-6, β = −0.290, p = 0.002. Secondary analyses including both hope and hopelessness showed similar patterns, with distinct relationships of hope with significantly lower nocturnal cortisol β = −0.233, p = 0.017 and ascites IL-6, β = −0.282, p = 0.003, and between hopelessness and a flatter cortisol slope, β = 0.211, p = 0.031. Conclusions: These data suggest a biological signature of hope associated with less inflammation and more normalized diurnal cortisol in ovarian cancer. These findings have potential clinical utility but need replication with more diverse samples and validated assessments of hope.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)362-369
Number of pages8
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
StatePublished - Feb 2024


  • Diurnal cortisol
  • Hope
  • Hopelessness
  • Inflammation
  • Interleukin-6
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Positive psychology


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