New research suggests a stress management program can help to offset the trauma of receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer and reduce anxiety accompanying chemotherapy and/or radiation.
Researchers also believe the stress management intervention promotes healing by reducing stress on the immune system thereby altering the tumor process at the molecular level.
The study, led by Michael H. Antoni, Ph.D., is one of the first to link psychological intervention with genetic expression in cancer patients.
Researchers used a group-based 10-week Cognitive-Behavioral Stress Management (CBSM) intervention. The program combines relaxation, imagery and deep breathing, along with cognitive-behavioral therapy. The goal of the intervention is to help patients reduce bodily tension, change the way they deal with intrusive stressful thoughts, decrease negative moods, and improve their interpersonal communication skills.
In the study, 79 women undergoing primary treatment for stage 0-III breast cancer were randomized into a 10-week CBSM program or a psychoeducational control group in the weeks following surgery. Six-month and 12-month follow up assessments were conducted.
“For the women in the CBSM groups, there was better psychological adaptation to the whole process of going through treatment for breast cancer and there were physiological changes that indicated that the women were recovering better,” Antoni said.
“The results suggest that the stress management intervention mitigates the influence of the stress of cancer treatment and promotes recovery over the first year.”
The study has been published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.
Previous research has shown that during times of adversity, our nervous and endocrine systems send signals to the immune system, which defends us from disease. In response, our body activates specific genes inside immune cells called white blood cells or leukocytes, Antoni said.
“For the women that participated in the intervention groups, the genes that signal the production of molecules associated with a healthy immune response, such as type I interferon, were up-regulated—meaning they were producing more of these substances, compared to levels seen in the control group,” Antoni said.
“At the same time, the genes responsible for the production of substances involved in cancer progression, such as pro-inflammatory cytokines, chemokines and matrix metalloproteinases were down-regulated.”
Researchers believe that providing support and tools to manage stress is critical during the time in which a women has been diagnosed with breast cancer, followed by surgery, then chemotherapy or radiation.
“This can be an emotionally and physically exhausting period offering little opportunity for recovery. If stress affects the immune system in a negative way, then their recovery could be slowed down and those patients taking longer to recover may be at risk for poorer health outcomes.
“Conversely, if stress management intervention can reduce the impact of stress on the immune system then recovery may be hastened.”
The research team plans to follow the women in this cohort to see if CBSM intervention and its effects on leukocyte gene expression are predictive of reoccurrence and/or long-term health outcomes.
Source: University of Miami