Cancer Coping with Mindful Art Therapy

Breast cancer patients used mindfulness techniques with art to lower anxiety and cope better

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The body and mind go hand-in-hand. Coping and managing stress are essential to beating disease and coming out on top. Mindful practices and artful expression may help.

A recent study tested mindfulness-based art therapy on a group of women diagnosed with breast cancer. Brain scans showed increased cerebral blood flow to emotion-regulating centers of the brain and patients reported less anxiety afterwards.

“This type of expressive art and meditation program has never before been studied for physiological impact and the correlation of that impact to improvements in stress and anxiety,” said the lead author.

"Ask your doctor about mindfulness programs."

Daniel Monti, MD, director of the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine, was the lead investigator. Dr. Monti said, “Our goal was to observe possible mechanisms for the observed psychosocial effects of mindfulness-based art therapy (MBAT) by evaluating the cerebral blood flow (CBF) changes associated with an MBAT intervention in comparison with a control of equal time and attention.”

For this small study, 18 breast cancer patients between the ages of 52-77, who had been diagnosed between 6 months and 3 years ago, were split into two groups for 8 weeks. No patients were in active treatment for breast cancer during the 8 weeks.

Group one was placed in the MBAT program. Group two was placed in an education program to act as a control group.

The MBAT program was based on the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) course of study, which includes mindful yoga, walking, listening and eating, breathing and emotion awareness. MBSR has been evaluated in previous studies and shown to improve immune function and quality of life in breast cancer patients.

For MBAT, MBSR techniques were combined with the act of artistic expression to help patients cope with breast cancer, express feelings and regulate emotion. Each patient was given a 90-item symptom survey and a functional magnetic resonance imagine scan (fMRI) before the program and after.

The 90-item survey had patients rate each item on a five point scale to assess anxiety levels. Patient anxiety scores were reduced by 0.15 points in the control group and 0.28 points in the MBAT group after the 8-week trial.

Researchers looked at the fMRIs to gauge CBF during tasks of meditation, rest, stress and mundane nature.

After 8 weeks, participants in the MBAT program showed increased CBF in the areas of the brain that regulate emotion, stress and reward and lower stress and anxiety scores on the symptom surveys compared to the control group.

Dr. Monti suggested using MBAT on a larger group and in other types of diseases to gain greater understanding of why mindfulness practices provides physiological and psychological benefits.

This study was published in December in Stress and Health. No funding information was given. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 9, 2012
Last Updated:
December 18, 2012