I have previously posted on the anticancer effects or stress reduction. We now have a new landmark study that further adds support to the importance of helping our patients cope with stress.
In this study, the researchers randomized 240 breast cancer survivors (women with Stage 0–IIIb breast cancer who were 2–10 weeks post-surgery) to either a 10-week stress management program or a control group.
The stress management program (“cognitive-behavioral stress management”) involved the following:
- Group-based intervention
- 90-minute sessions, once per week, for 10-weeks
- “Aimed to improve coping and psychological adaptation as well as reduce stress and negative mood using cognitive-behavioral therapy (e.g., cognitive reframing, stress re-appraisal, effective coping skills training, assertiveness training, anger man- agement, optimize use of social support) and relaxation training (e.g., progressive muscle relaxation, guided visual imagery, diaphragmatic breathing).”
- There was a 79% lower risk (hazard ratio= 0.21) of dying from any cause in the group of women who completed the stress reduction program 11 years earlier!
- There was a 75% lower risk (hazard ratio= 0.25) of dying from breast cancer in the group of women who completed the stress reduction program 11 years earlier!
- There was a 55% lower risk (hazard ratio= 0.45) of having a breast cancer recurrence in the group of women who completed the stress reduction program 11 years earlier!
Previously published papers by these researchers report that stress management training is associated with:
- Significant less anxiety and depressed mood (ref)
- Decreased leukocyte pro-inflammatory and pro-metastatic gene expression (ref)
- Lower serum cortisol levels (ref)
The researchers hypothesize that the reason for the improvements in the current study could be related to:
- Chronic stress is associated with cancer promoting pathophysiology (i.e. impaired immune function, increased systemic inflammation, genetic changes in metastatic promoting genes, etc.) Reducing chronic stress may improve these factors.
- Depression is associated with noncompliance with medical treatment (i.e. not taking endocrine therapy as recommended, not regularly going to follow-up visits with their physicians, etc.) Reducing depression may improve treatment and follow-up compliance.
- In fact, a recent study reports that depression is associated with worse cancer outcomes.
- Group social dynamics may have influenced women’s participation in behaviors that increase or decrease cancer risk, such as alcohol consumption, physical activity, and diet.
The Bottom Line:
- All cancer patients and survivors should be assessed for stress, anxiety and depressed mood.
- Early intervention with stress management programs have proven to be successful in improving stress, anxiety and depression symptoms in cancer patients and survivors.
- Participation in a stress management program may improve cancer and other health outcomes.
**If you don’t have easy access to a stress reduction/management program, I recommend this excellent online program from the Cleveland Clinic:
- Stress Free Now, Cleveland Clinic’s clinically proven, 6-week online course for reducing stress and increasing positive emotions and energy, teaches you how to practice relaxation techniques and gives you real-life strategies for managing your body’s reaction to stress.