Thursday, June 28, 2012


People undergoing cancer treatments, as well as those who have survived cancer, are at increased risk for negative mental health outcomes. Depression and anxiety are among the most common psychological consequences among cancer survivors and patients. Not knowing what the future holds and worrying about relapses can create fear and worry. Regrets about past choices and negative feelings associated with a former way of life can lead to depression in these individuals. Although it is well known that individuals who battle cancer may also have to overcome mental health problems, the best way to accomplish that is still widely debated.

Mindfulness-based therapies (MBT)--- not a single model of therapy, but rather an approach to working with clients that incorporates a range of approaches that have mindfulness and acceptance as their focus---have been used to address many negative psychological issues, including anxiety and depression. For individuals who have to deal with additional symptoms such as pain, MBT may be a useful tool.

Jacob Piet (pictured left) of the Department of Psychology at Aarhus University in Denmark recently conducted a study to see if MBT would be beneficial at reducing not only the physical symptoms associated with cancer, but also the psychological symptoms of depression and anxiety. For his study, Piet analyzed data from 22 separate studies that assessed the mental and physical health of over 1,400 individuals with cancer. The participants were evaluated for symptom severity and remission, as well as overall quality of life.

The results revealed that the participants who received MBT had steeper reductions in depressive and anxious symptoms than those who received usual care. Additionally, these same individuals also realized less rumination and worry associated with depression and anxiety.

Piet did find a difference between the results achieved in the randomized controlled studies (RCTs) and the nonrandomized studies, but regardless, the trend indicated that MBT was indeed a viable and effective option for treating both physical and psychological symptoms that arise from cancer diagnosis and treatment. Piet added, “Compared to other effective forms of psychological treatment, MBT may represent a more general approach to dealing with psychological distress by teaching participants to relate more skillfully to their experience.”

Numerous studies have been done on how mindfulness affects cancer patients in positive ways. One of the foremost experts, Dr Linda E Carlson, co-author of Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery: A Step-by-Step MBSR Approach to Help You Cope with Treatment and Reclaim Your Life found patients with mixed cancer diagnoses who participated in mindfulness training had lower mood disturbance and stress symptoms after mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and those improvements were maintained at a 6 month follow-up.

Another study by Carlson and colleagues found patients with early-stage breast and prostate cancer experienced improvements in quality of life, symptoms of stress, and sleep quality.

Resource: Piet J, Würtzen H, Zachariae R. (2012) ‘The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on symptoms of anxiety and depression in adult cancer patients and survivors: A systematic review and meta-analysis.’ Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. May 7, 2012, no pagination specified. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028329



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