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How can mindfulness meditation help breast cancer patients?

News
June 11, 2022
By
Olena Mokshyna, PhD.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction can help patients with breast cancer with their mental well-being.

Many patients with breast cancer receiving conventional therapies suffer from adverse psychological effects, such as increased stress levels, anxiety, depression, and cognitive problems. Undergoing breast cancer treatment also takes a heavy toll on a person’s self-image, confidence, and feeling of stability. As research shows, such manifestations can worsen therapy outcomes and promote the proliferation of cancer cells. MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) is a psychoeducational program based on meditation techniques. It has been shown to improve physical and psychological symptoms in cancer patients. However, the outcomes of MBSR are typically measured using self-reported questionnaires, which have insufficient accuracy and cannot serve as an objective measure of improvement. 

Wang et al. conducted a study to measure the effect of MBSR on the nervous system. To achieve this goal, they chose HRV (heart rate variability) – a measure of beat-to-beat variability in a heart rate – as a quantitative metric. HRV serves as a popular noninvasive tool for observing the nervous system function allowing to estimate both sympathetic (“fight-or-flight” response) and parasympathetic (“rest-and-digest” response) nervous activities. 

The study was conducted as a non-randomized controlled trial and included 50 breast cancer patients aged 20 to 65 years. The inclusion criteria were breast cancer diagnosis and treatment within the last 2 years. Patients were split into two groups. One group participated in a shorter-than-standard 6-week program with 2 hours meditation sessions, which included five different forms of training: sitting meditation, body scan, mindful exercise, walking meditation, and mindful eating. Additionally, patients were asked to perform daily informal guided meditation practice for 10-15 minutes, 5-6 times a week. HRV was measured using a wristband heart rate monitor with several sensors. 

The results suggest that MBSR training effectively improves HRV and related time and frequency metrics. A large effect size was particularly observed for time metrics, with a significant increase in the MBSR group. From a medical perspective, lower values of HRV time metrics indicate low adaptability to stress and high stress levels. Decreased frequency measures have also been previously associated with higher morbidity and mortality risks. Frequency metrics, on the other hand, were significantly lower, showing activation of the parasympathetic system. 

This study demonstrates the significant quantitative improvements in psychological parameters due to MBSR intervention. Moreover, it indicates that an even shorter MBSR program carries beneficial effects and can help patients with breast cancer with their mental well-being. Altogether, these findings promote the implementation of interventions able to “strengthen” the parasympathetic nervous system. However, due to the small sample size, the researchers recommend a multi-center follow-up of up to 6-months to better understand the long-term MBSR effects in breast cancer patients. 

Source Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health

Many patients with breast cancer receiving conventional therapies suffer from adverse psychological effects, such as increased stress levels, anxiety, depression, and cognitive problems. Undergoing breast cancer treatment also takes a heavy toll on a person’s self-image, confidence, and feeling of stability. As research shows, such manifestations can worsen therapy outcomes and promote the proliferation of cancer cells. MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) is a psychoeducational program based on meditation techniques. It has been shown to improve physical and psychological symptoms in cancer patients. However, the outcomes of MBSR are typically measured using self-reported questionnaires, which have insufficient accuracy and cannot serve as an objective measure of improvement. 

Wang et al. conducted a study to measure the effect of MBSR on the nervous system. To achieve this goal, they chose HRV (heart rate variability) – a measure of beat-to-beat variability in a heart rate – as a quantitative metric. HRV serves as a popular noninvasive tool for observing the nervous system function allowing to estimate both sympathetic (“fight-or-flight” response) and parasympathetic (“rest-and-digest” response) nervous activities. 

The study was conducted as a non-randomized controlled trial and included 50 breast cancer patients aged 20 to 65 years. The inclusion criteria were breast cancer diagnosis and treatment within the last 2 years. Patients were split into two groups. One group participated in a shorter-than-standard 6-week program with 2 hours meditation sessions, which included five different forms of training: sitting meditation, body scan, mindful exercise, walking meditation, and mindful eating. Additionally, patients were asked to perform daily informal guided meditation practice for 10-15 minutes, 5-6 times a week. HRV was measured using a wristband heart rate monitor with several sensors. 

The results suggest that MBSR training effectively improves HRV and related time and frequency metrics. A large effect size was particularly observed for time metrics, with a significant increase in the MBSR group. From a medical perspective, lower values of HRV time metrics indicate low adaptability to stress and high stress levels. Decreased frequency measures have also been previously associated with higher morbidity and mortality risks. Frequency metrics, on the other hand, were significantly lower, showing activation of the parasympathetic system. 

This study demonstrates the significant quantitative improvements in psychological parameters due to MBSR intervention. Moreover, it indicates that an even shorter MBSR program carries beneficial effects and can help patients with breast cancer with their mental well-being. Altogether, these findings promote the implementation of interventions able to “strengthen” the parasympathetic nervous system. However, due to the small sample size, the researchers recommend a multi-center follow-up of up to 6-months to better understand the long-term MBSR effects in breast cancer patients. 

Source Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health

Article reviewed by
Dr. Ana Baroni MD. Ph.D.
SCIENTIFIC & MEDICAL ADVISOR
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Dr. Ana Baroni MD. Ph.D.

Scientific & Medical Advisor
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Ana has over 20 years of consultancy experience in longevity, regenerative and precision medicine. She has a multifaceted understanding of genomics, molecular biology, clinical biochemistry, nutrition, aging markers, hormones and physical training. This background allows her to bridge the gap between longevity basic sciences and evidence-based real interventions, putting them into the clinic, to enhance the healthy aging of people. She is co-founder of Origen.life, and Longevityzone. Board member at Breath of Health, BioOx and American Board of Clinical Nutrition. She is Director of International Medical Education of the American College of Integrative Medicine, Professor in IL3 Master of Longevity at Barcelona University and Professor of Nutrigenomics in Nutrition Grade in UNIR University.

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