Breast cancer patients who incorporate stress management therapies early in their treatment could live longer and experience prolonged intervals free of disease before recurrence. These findings come from a study of cognitive-behavioral stress management at the University of Miami. Researchers there reported that learning stress-management skills helped reduce distress in the women participants. The study protocol also showed reduced inflammatory signaling in circulating cells during treatment and afterward. During 10 weekly group sessions, the women in the study were taught stress reduction techniques including muscle relaxation and deep breathing, in addition to receiving training on improving coping strategies and altering negative thoughts. The researchers noted that earlier studies have demonstrated that distress, negative moods and heightened inflammation during treatment may contribute to progression of breast cancer. They’re now looking at whether changes in inflammatory gene expression during and after stress management predict how patients fare up to 15 years after treatment. They are also considering whether a five-week stress management program will work as effectively as the 10-week one.
My take: This should be welcome news for women with breast cancer. We know that stress is linked to cancer as well as to other leading causes of death, including cardiovascular disease, but the interventions used in the study are easily accessible, and you can learn the basics of stress management techniques such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation on many websites. The “relaxing breath” is an especially effective tool for stress management. You also should be aware that getting regular aerobic exercise can reduce stress and has been shown to improve breast cancer survival.