Is it okay to make cancer a laughing matter?

Is it okay to make cancer a laughing matter? (Peter Griffith, Photographer's Choice via Getty Images)

Laughter as medicine

Research on the health effects of laughter is in its infancy, according to a 2010 review of medical studies in the journal Alternative Therapies.

The article's author, Ramon Mora-Ripoll of the Organizacion Mundial de la Risa in Barcelona, Spain, found that well-designed randomized controlled trials, the gold standard in medical research, have not yet been performed. But less conclusive studies do indicate that laughter has psychological benefits such as reducing stress and elevating mood, Mora-Ripoll writes, and the potential downside of laughter is small.

Clifford, the author of "Not Now ... I'm Having a No Hair Day" and "Cancer has its Privileges," says her experience with cancer actually began when she was 15, and her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Her mom lived for only four more years, she says, and when she herself was diagnosed at age 40, she assumed the worst.

"I thought I'm going to get depressed, crawl into bed and die," she recalls.

But then, shortly after she got back from the hospital, the doorbell rang.

"Mom!" her 8-year-old son called out: "More flowers for your breast!"

"That was the first time I laughed in eight days. I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I can laugh again. This feels good,'" she said.

Cancer humor sources

An audio recording of Tig Notaro's now-famous set, performed shortly after she learned she had Stage 2 breast cancer, can be purchased at iTunes. For great excerpts, check out "This American Life," Episode 476 ("What Doesn't Kill You") at

T-shirts are at available at, ("Don't Let Cancer Steal Second Base") and Edition.

For younger, edgier cancer humor ("Top Ten Signs You've Joined a Cheap HMO"), check out the "Cancertainment" section of

Blogs with a strong humor element include and sells greeting cards ("I'm having a no hair day," "My oncologist does my hair.")

Popular books include "Cancer on Five Dollars a Day" by Robert Schimmel and Alan Eisenstock, "Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person" by Miriam Engelberg and "Cancer Schmancer" by Fran Drescher.