Breast cancer patients who are given the opportunity to learn stress management techniques early in treatment have been shown to maintain a more positive mood and have an improved quality of life many years down the road, according to a new study published in the journal CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.
“Because depressive symptoms have been associated with neuroendocrine and inflammatory processes that may influence cancer progression, our ongoing work is examining the effects of stress management on depression and inflammatory biomarkers on the one hand, and disease recurrence and survival on the other,” said Michael Antoni, Ph.D., of the University of Miami.
The study involved 240 women with a new diagnosis of breast cancer. The purpose of the trial was to test the effects of a stress management intervention developed by Antoni.
The findings showed that, compared with patients who attended a one-day seminar of education about breast cancer, those who learned relaxation techniques and new coping skills in a supportive group over 10 weeks experienced improved quality of life and fewer symptoms of depression during the first year of treatment.
Fifteen years have passed since the beginning of the study, and in the latest report, the researchers found that the women who received the stress management intervention still have fewer depressive symptoms and better quality of life.
“Women with breast cancer who participated in the study initially used stress management techniques to cope with the challenges of primary treatment to lower distress,” said lead author and graduate student Jamie Stagl, currently at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston.
“Because these stress management techniques also give women tools to cope with fears of recurrence and disease progression, the present results indicate that these skills can be used to reduce distress and depressed mood and optimize quality of life across the survivorship period as women get on with their lives,” she said.
In fact, Stagl noted that breast cancer survivors in the stress management group reported levels of depression and quality of life at the 15-year follow-up that were similar to what is reported by women without breast cancer.
The stress intervention was also found to be beneficial for women of various races and ethnic backgrounds. “This is key given the fact that ethnic minority women experience poorer quality of life and outcomes after breast cancer treatment,” said Stagl.
As survival rates increase for breast cancer, the ability to maintain positive mental health has become increasingly important. The new study suggests the possibility that psychologists and social workers may be able to “inoculate” women with stress management skills early in treatment to help them maintain long-term psychosocial health.