How Stress Management Could Help Breast Cancer Patients

Breast cancer patients may improve quality of life if trained to manage stress early in therapy

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Stress, sadness and depression are common to breast cancer patients. Learning to manage those feelings early on, however, could help patients for years to come.

A new study found that if women learn to manage stress early in their breast cancer therapy, the effect may be long-lasting. They may have improved mood and quality of life up to 15 years after acquiring these stress-busting techniques.

Medical advances have helped breast cancer patients live longer and have reduced the chances of cancer coming back (or recurring). Still, breast cancer patients often report depression, insomnia, fatigue and ongoing worry about possible recurrence.

Michael H. Antoni, PhD, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Miami, and colleagues wrote this research.

Dr. Antoni told dailyRx News that the benefits of stress management may go beyond relieving depression.

“Data just released at the American Psychosomatic Society meeting in Savannah showed that depressive symptoms during breast cancer treatment predict greater odds of mortality over the next eight to 15 years," Dr. Antoni said. "It is plausible that stress management effects on long-term depressive symptoms may have implications for survival.”

Dr. Antoni added that depressive symptoms also relate to greater signs of inflammation in breast cancer patients. Inflammation may promote cancer progression.

These researchers followed 240 women with a recent breast cancer diagnosis. Some patients were randomly selected to learn relaxation techniques and new coping skills over 10 weeks. Other patients received only a one-day breast cancer education seminar.

Dr. Antoni and colleagues first found that those in the 10-week program had improved quality of life and fewer depressive symptoms during the first year of treatment compared to the control group. They then contacted 100 women from this initial group eight to 15 years after the start of the study. Half were from the stress-management group.

Women who had received the stress-management lessons had fewer depressive symptoms and better quality of life up to 15 years later, Dr. Antoni and team found.

At the 15-year mark, breast cancer survivors in the stress-management group had levels of depression and quality of life similar to those in women without breast cancer.

Dr. Antoni said effective stress-management techniques may include deep breathing, muscle relaxation and “strategies for changing self-defeating and irrational thoughts about life stressors.”

This study was published online March 23 in the journal Cancer. The National Cancer Institute funded this research. Dr. Antoni received publication royalties from a book and training materials that he had authored on stress-management treatments.

Review Date: 
March 20, 2015
Last Updated:
March 24, 2015