Feature Publication: Psychologic interventions improve survival in breast cancer

On occasion, I am going to highlight a scientific study that I find interesting, helpful or exciting. This week I am discussing a trial published in the journal Cancer in 2008. (1) It is titled “Psychologic intervention improves survival for breast cancer patients: a randomized clinical trial.”

Isn’t it amazing to learn that psychologic interventions (which included mindfulness techniques) not only improve quality of life, but also extend survival?!

In this study, 227 patients with breast cancer who had undergone surgery and were preparing for subsequent treatment were randomly assigned to psychologic intervention with periodic assessment, or assessment only.

What was the intervention, you might ask?

The interventions were conducted in small groups and directed by 2 psychologists. The groups met for 4 months of weekly sessions, followed by 8 monthly sessions for a total of 26 sessions (39 therapy hours) over 12 months.   The goals were reducing stress, improving mood, altering health behaviors and improving adherence to cancer treatment.

Strategies included:

  • progressive muscular relaxation for stress reduction
  • teaching problem solving skills
  • identifying supportive friends and family for help
  • teaching assertive communication techniques
  • increasing daily activity, such as walking
  • improvement of dietary habits
  • advice on managing treatment side effects.

In two separate publications, it was reported that the patients receiving the interventions had improvements in all endpoints compared to the control group. These included psychologic, behavioral, health, immunity, and survival.

Patients who regularly attended the intervention sessions had a reduced risk of breast cancer recurrence and lower risk of dying from breast cancer. They also had reduced risk of death from all causes. This was independent of known predictors of breast cancer progression, such as lymph node status, receptor status, histology and others.

In the paper’s discussion, it is noted that patients in the intervention arm with the greatest reduction in distress were those who practiced the progressive muscular relaxation daily, and remembered (daily) that continued stress could adversely effect their health. They learned that stress could be controlled/reduced by using the mindfulness technique they had been taught. Other publications have also shown that uncontrolled stress results in poorer survival in cancer, possibly via hormonal and immune mediated pathways.

If you have cancer, this paper highlights why you should add a daily mindfulness exercise to your routine. I have 2 free progressive muscular relaxation sessions on my website for you to try (Day 1 and Day 7): www.jointhecircleofhope.com/meditations.