Breast Cancer Patients Learn to Manage Stress, May Live Longer

A new randomized clinical trial shows that women who were provided with skills to manage stress early in their breast cancer treatment went longer before disease recurrence and had improved survival.

Participants were taught cognitive-behavioral stress management (CBSM), an intervention that has been shown to improve psychological adaptation and lowers distress and inflammatory signaling in circulating cells during breast cancer treatment and long-term follow-ups.

Michael Antoni, Ph.D., and his research team examined whether breast cancer patients who received CBSM in the weeks after surgery had improved survival and a greater “disease-free interval” until recurrence.

In the study, women receiving CBSM were instructed on techniques including muscle relaxation and deep breathing, as well as skills to change negative thoughts and improve coping strategies in 10 weekly group sessions.

This secondary analysis was published online in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.

“Our ongoing work is examining whether the effects of stress management on depressive symptoms and inflammatory biomarkers during the first year of treatment are linked to longer-term disease recurrence and survival,” Antoni said.

Antoni, professor of psychology at University of Miami, and researchers in the Department of Psychology noted that prior research has showed that distress, negative mood, and heightened inflammation during treatment may all facilitate disease progression and poorer health outcomes. They, they noted, “we wanted to test whether participating in a program like CBSM could decrease the risk of disease progression and mortality over the long term.”

Currently, researchers are testing whether changes in inflammatory gene expression during and after the stress management intervention predict disease outcomes up to 15 years later.

They are also developing and testing even shorter versions of the stress management program to see if five-week versions of programs specifically targeting either relaxation training or cognitive-behavioral coping skills training are equivalent to the 10-week CBSM program.

Additional versions of stress management interventions that are adapted to meet the needs of specific vulnerable cancer populations —¬†African American women, Latinas, or older women of all races and ethnicities, for example —¬†are also being tested.

“Our work is unique in that more than one-third of the participants were of an ethnic minority, compared to mostly non-Hispanic white women studied in prior research, which means that the findings may be generalizable to the larger population of breast cancer patients,” Antoni said.

“Our overarching goal is to improve survivorship and health outcomes by reaching patients early in the cancer treatment process and providing them the tools they need to manage current and future challenges on their journey.”

Source: University of Miami/EurekAlert