Women's Health

Mindfulness meditation helps cancer survivors manage symptoms

Mindfulness meditation helps cancer survivors manage symptoms

Breast cancer survivors might be better able to manage symptoms of fear and fatigue if they practice mindfulness meditation, a new study suggests.

The results come as no surprise to Kathy Hill, an oncology nurse navigator at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill. She sees these benefits in patients who take anxiety-reducing classes offered at Condell’s Cancer Resource Center. The classes include exercise, yoga, tai chi and reiki.

“What it does is helps you refocus your attention and learn relaxation techniques,” Hill says. “It’s very helpful.”

About 320 women who had been treated for breast cancer took part in the study, which was reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Roughly half were assigned to participate in a six-week mindfulness program during which they learned a meditation technique with a focus on breathing, yoga, walking meditation and body awareness.

The symptoms of all the women were assessed at the beginning of the study, after six weeks and after 12 weeks. Researchers found those who took part in the mindfulness program were less fearful of cancer recurrence and less fatigued. Based on the 12-week assessment, benefits appeared to continue even after the participants completed the six-week mindfulness program.

Stress-reduction techniques can include identifying where a person holds tension, such as the shoulders or back, and learning to relax those muscles, Hill says. Breathing is another area of focus. Hill says learning to take deep breaths rather than shallow ones can be extremely beneficial as well.

She adds that participating in classes with other people who have been diagnosed with cancer produces additional benefits.

“There’s a great sense of support and encouragement they get from one another,” Hill says. “They draw energy from each other.”

Hill encourages cancer survivors to seek classes that can help them relax and reduce stress. If a breast cancer patient is unable to participate in a class, the American Cancer Society offers these coping tips:

  • Learn as much as you can about your cancer and its treatment.
  • Express your feelings.
  • Take care of yourself.
  • Exercise.
  • Reach out to others.
  • Try to focus on what you can control, not what you can’t.

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