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June 8th, 2010
10:00 AM ET

Less stress helps breast cancer patients

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

It's tough enough for a woman to go through one diagnosis of breast cancer, but when the cancer recurs it can be devastating. Not only does the stress of wondering whether the cancer will come back again, take a toll on the patient's quality of life, it can also take a toll on her health.

So how can the medical community help these patients?
According to a new study in the publication Clinical Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, stress-reducing psychological intervention seems to help increase the quality of life and the survival rate among women with recurrent breast cancer over the long term.

In a previous study called The Stress and Immunity Breast Cancer Project, data showed that after an average of 11 years of follow-up, women who received psychological intervention had a 45 percent reduced risk of breast cancer recurrence. In this most recent study researchers tested the same hypothesis looking at mortality from breast cancer.

Participants in the current study included 227 women with newly diagnosed Stage II or III breast cancer. The women were randomized to receive a psychological intervention or assessment only. The psychological intervention treatment helped patients understand the nature of cancer and stress, taught them tangible ways to reduce stress and improve quality of life; helped patients follow-up on their cancer care and showed them how better to communicate with their medical care providers. Those who were given an assessment were only told their diagnosis and their options.

During follow-up, 62 women were found to have recurrent breast cancer. After recurrence, women who had earlier received the psychological intervention had a 59 percent reduction in the risk of dying of breast cancer.

According to lead investigator, Barbara Anderson, professor in the department of psychology at the Ohio State University, Columbus, and a researcher at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute, these results "show enduring benefits from the psychological intervention that were never previously considered or observed," and suggest that the interventions affected patients' risks for recurrence and for breast cancer death.


soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. Sandee Orlando

    I am not even done with treatment yet (chemo complete and about to start radiation) and the questions I keep asking are "How do I know it is gone?" and "How do I know if it comes back?" I am sure I am driving my doctor crazy, as she keeps answering me but I keep asking like I am going to get a different answer. I guess what I am saying is this article make sense to me. I may need a psycholigical work up of some kind and plan to talk to my doctor about it.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Bob LosAngeles

    Read the Master Key System by Charles Haanal. Stress caused by your thoughts are the root of many illnesses. According to this article 59% reduction in death from cancer as a result of stress reduction is huge. Do everything you can to create harmony in your life, and disharmony in your body cannot follow.

    June 8, 2010 at 13:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. HD

    Hey, when you have to deal with insurance companies...stress is the reality.

    June 8, 2010 at 13:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Nate (Chicago)

    Read "Life Over Cancer' By Keith Block, M.D. The concept of integrative medicine is covered in great detail and includes how he has been incorporating stress care and management into his program for decades with fascinating results.

    June 8, 2010 at 13:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Allison

    This is yet another variation in the blame-the-victim mentality that U.S. culture is so enraptured with, as it helps to perpetuate the wishful notion that one's attitude and sheer "healthful living" practices can stave off recurrence or death. While I'm not intending to minimize the great value of psychological support, whether from trained professionals or other sources, it is both misleading and wrong to suggest that women who are able to access therapy (and this in itself can be problematic, due to cost) are less likely to have a recurrence or to die, or the converse, that those who are either unable to do so or who opt not to, for whatever reason, may not fare as well.

    June 8, 2010 at 13:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. PeggyPark Forest

    I'm a stage III cancer survivor and have always believed that stress has a lot to do with cancer. If anything, it is a factor that contributes. I always have a lot of stress, so I counter it with as much sleep as I can get, exercise and time out in nature. Sandee in Orlando.... Its a one day at a time disease. You keep adding on days the farther out from your diagnosis, that's it. I sought psychological help as well and I've always been a part of 12 step groups – which is my saving grace. Find a group where you can talk and talk. Try to keep your mind in the here and now. Deal with what you have to deal with at the time you have to deal with it. Concentrate on taking care of yourself. Thanks.

    June 8, 2010 at 13:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Cheryl Lobdell

    I was diagnosed with breast cancer, stage I at age 38. I was divorced with two children and was able to withstand chemotherapy, which involved losing my hair, and radiation which was pretty easy. After my treatment, I lived my life as normal, not thinking that it would come back or that I might die. I had children to bring up, and set goals for myself and their future. I was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer to my lungs 6 years ago after living for 20 years with no sign it had come back. My only reason for going back to my oncologist who had followed me for 15 years, was a nagging cough. I have taken anti-estrogen therapy to include Femara, Tamoxifin and Faslodex and am now on Xeloda, a chemotherapy drug in pill forrm. I had a lot of stress in my life, the biggest being losing my second child to a congenital heart defect at 3 years old. I am sure stress has played a major role in my developing cancer, however, I believe in moving forward, lots of positive thoughts, prayer and the best oncologist, Dr. Steven Eliot Come of Beth Israel Hospital in Boston.
    Thank you for allowing me to share my experience with others.

    June 8, 2010 at 13:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Elizabeth Whitney

    This will hit home with every cancer patient. I recently completed brutal treatment for lymphoma. Everyone around me is celebrating the fact that I appear to be cancer free. I'm not celebrating. I'm waiting for relapse. I'm trying to steel myself for the future appointment when I hear, "We're so sorry, the cancer seems to have recurred." I do see a wonderful therapist every month, and I do take an antidepressant; however, the idea of being able to reduce the stress of this awful situation seems impossible. Perhaps time will help. I hope so.

    June 8, 2010 at 13:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Claudia Deprez

    I am a two time stage IV Ovarian Cancer Survivor, First diagnosis Sept of 2003. There are a whole host of immune suppressants and Stress IS A MAJOR ONE. Most major cancer centers offer counciling group or individual, take advantage of ALL the adjunct therapies, you can.Psych therapy, Reike, massage, accupuncture, exercise etc
    What you eat, what your enviroment is, what you are stressing over are all contributors. FAITH TO HEAL. To the extent you choose what to do next after diagnois is up to you, YOU HAVE A CHOICE ! CHOOSE LIFE!

    June 8, 2010 at 14:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Mita Phx

    To Allison, I respectfully disagree. Study simply says there may be benefits to reducing stressful lifestyles that may impact cancer recurrence. Understanding that cost can be an issue, there are other ways of "de-stressing" that are less costly or cost free than psychological intervention, such as mediation, yoga, prayer, exercise, laughter. As a breast cancer "thriver" as I like to say rather than survivor, who is 2 years away from last chemo treatment, these methods were invaluable to me during treatment. As was acupuncture...seemed to help me with side effects of chemo...however, that IS more costly since insurance doesn't cover. Attitude is EVERYTHING. (All the best to you, Sandee)

    June 8, 2010 at 14:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Matthew Johnson

    Stress!
    Since 2002 – I have been diagnosed with THREE different types of cancer and treated each time. Would love to meet the press anytime to discuss the trials, tribulations, trauma, head trips, stresses, etc.

    June 8, 2010 at 14:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Katherine

    I have just finished all of my treatments to include, Chemo, surgery
    and then radiation for stage III breast cancer. I have great faith in God and through this whole thing he has never left me. I try not
    to worry about the future, even though its human to do so, I just
    give it to God and let him take care of my future. My job is stressful
    and there is no breast cancer in my family so I don' tknow if its connected, you just have to live each day in peace and know God is in control.

    June 8, 2010 at 14:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Debbie

    I know without a shadow of a doubt that stress plays a major role in dis-ease in the body. The mind/body connection is a strong one and what affects one also affects the other. Keeping a positive mental state is crucial in creating a strong immune system. The thoughts you think will manifest in your body. Think "wellness" thoughts instead of "worry" thoughts throughout the day to set the stage for healing to take place in your body. Give thanks to your body frequently for the healing it provides you and BELIEVE IT!

    June 8, 2010 at 14:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Donna

    @Allison-why is it misleading and wrong to state the conclusion of the RANDOMIZED research study presented here? I am surprised that this type of intervention had such a strong impact on outcomes but how else would you state the conclusion of the study?

    If the value of such intervention is proven by this and hopefully other future studies, then perhaps insurance companies would be more likely to pay for it.

    June 8, 2010 at 14:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Deborah Hauser

    I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in Sept. 2009. I was 51 years old, mother of four grown children, married. I had a mastcetomy in Oct. 2009 and 6 months of chemo that I finished in April. I'm starting 33 sessions of radiation next week.
    I've had too many female friends develop this disease who lived stressful lives & those who lived stress-free lives. I think for me, at the time of diagnosis, I did have work-related stress in my life. But the turth is, this disease is a siren-type wake up call, to any woman who gets targeted. I just have a strong sense that when something this overwhelming happens, you need to change how you think.
    You need your words in your head to be words of encouragement and love. I gave up speaking negative words to myself. I just did. Instead I listen (even at work) to Christian music, have daily devotions, go to worship regularly and speak nicely to myself (which by the way, isn't always easy with bathing suit season on the summer horizon).
    So for what it's worth and I'm no psychologist, but take a minute to stand naked in front of a mirror (bald & flat chested) and let the tears fall and say out loud "I love you anyway, you remarkably beaten up soul, you're gonna be okay, look how much you've already endured, trust in the Lord with all of your heart, and know that you're never alone ... because you're not." Anyway, it's helped me a lot. It also helps to have a spouse who echos the same words daily.
    But at the end of the day, you really have to believe in the miracle of healing. Because miracles happen everyday and I guess I'm just choosing to believe I'm being healed by the loving hand of God.

    June 8, 2010 at 15:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Ellen Silver

    The Cancer Support Community and its local affiliates comprised of The Wellness Community and Gilda's Club offers programs throughout the country to address the distress associated with a cancer diagnosis. Our programs reduce the stress, anxiety and depression referenced in this article.

    Together the Cancer Support Community is the largest provider of psychosocial care for people impacted by cancer. Our programs are FREE and are for people with cancer and their loved ones.

    As the Executive Director of The Wellness Community-West Los Angeles, I see the impact of our work daily on the faces of those we serve. We offer support groups, individual counseling, educational workshops and mind/body programs (yoga, strength training, meditation).

    If you are impacted with cancer - find a local affiliate near your home or you can try the online support programs.

    Support is just a phone call away!

    Ellen R. Silver, Executive Director

    June 8, 2010 at 15:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. lynne

    i was diagnosedwith DCIS in early may and had two lumpectomies because the first on did not remove safe enough margins. I too believe that stress plays a role in illness but choose to believe that faithin god is the ultimate healer. For nothing he said that by his stripes we are healed

    June 8, 2010 at 16:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Sara

    Anyone who lives with cancer knows the extent to which stress inevitably contributes to disease progression. I've fought chronic lymphocytic leukemia for over six years, with two young children, a full-time job, and no way to truly reduce stress (and I've tried everything - yoga, exercise, meditation, psychotherapy, antidepressants). Watching and waiting, fighting insurance companies and dealing with insensitive medical professionals, undergoing treatment, trying to be a good mom, juggling family schedules, juggling work schedules, knowing your disease will likely recur, then seeing it recur, knowing that subsequent treatments will be less effective, constantly worrying about what will happen to your kids if you're no longer there, who will love them like you do. The worst is KNOWING that your stress is hurting you - and stressing out even more because you can't stop it! Cancer IS stress. It can have an upside - if it's a wake up call about the wonderful things you have, and a reminder to enjoy each day. But inevitably, it's a reminder that we're all terminal. Ignorance used to be bliss.

    June 8, 2010 at 16:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Sharon McEachern

    Yes, less stress helps breast cancer patients - and everyone else. I know of three tangible ways to reduce stress, backed by recent research and which cost nothing. They almost sound too simple to really be true, but Ethic Soup blog explains the research behind three different studies on reducing stress:

    One is just five minutes excercise in nature and another study is how just a walk in the park and nature restores the mind:

    http://www.ethicsoup.com/2009/01/the-art-my-backyardis-by-artist-leung-grace-a-talented-texas-second-grader.html#more

    AND

    http://www.ethicsoup.com/2010/05/just-5-minutes-exercise-in-nature-improves-mental-health.html

    Best of all is how deep breathing and soft music reduce stress just as good as massage:

    http://www.ethicsoup.com/2010/03/reduce-stress-study-finds-deep-breathing-soft-music-as-good-as-massage.html

    June 8, 2010 at 18:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Mae

    What about families who have a child with cancer? It can be just as stressful to children, and to their parents and siblings, affecting everyone's health and well being. I think this should be looked into more on every level of cancer, no matter the age.

    June 8, 2010 at 19:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. JJinCVCA

    How does someone who has cancer, or any other disease that requires expensive, on going treatment, avoid the stress that comes from dealing with health insurance companies, figuring out how to pay for what insurance doesn't cover, dealing with a hospital's cold, uncaring billing departments, pay for shared cost of treatment, and the stress of treatment itself....?

    June 8, 2010 at 20:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Mary Treacy O'Keefe

    In the Twin Cities, Well Within offers services similiar to those offered at the Wellness Community, above, plus healing touch, an Integrative Healing Support group for Women with Cancer, Renewing Life(TM) groups, wellness coaching, spiritual direction and much more. Our support groups are free and healing therapies are low cost or free. This article supports what we see everyday: not only are people who receive psychosocial/spiritual support living longer but they are living as fully as possible. Please check our website or call Well Within in St. Paul, MN.
    We can help.
    Mary Treacy O'Keefe, MA
    Co-founder and President, Well Within

    June 8, 2010 at 20:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Sarah Anderson

    Crap, and the stress from OVERa million $$$ in medical bills, with a million in life time cap, then you loose your job because you haven't been able to work for 2 years, end up on cobra and know that shortly, you will have no job and no cobra, and can't pay for health insurance. Please tell me how to reduce the stress?

    June 8, 2010 at 21:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Meg Reeves

    I am a 1.5 yr. HER II-neu breast cancer survivor and a nurse. I have a lot of debt from my treatment for cancer last year and have some cognitive changes from the chemo. I hope that in the future there is a specialty area of medicine that covers us after treatment has been completed. Unlike other diseases, like MS, there isn't a lot of follow-up care for us other than the every 3 month blood draw, etc. Oncologist focus on those who are actively battling cancer, which I completely understand. But we can have a lot of concerns post-treatment that aren't being addressed. It would be great to have the psychological support, maybe a social worker to assist with the financial hardships, and someone who has the time to really listen to how we are doing and offer advice. The fact that it took so many years for the medical community to recognize the long term affects of chemotherapy on us shows that we could really benefit from someone that has the time to listen to us. I appreciate all of your posts as it helps to realize how many of us are struggling with the same problems.

    June 9, 2010 at 16:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Hueina Su, The Nurturer's Coach

    There have been quite a few studies on the effects of stress, psychological interventions, and/or stress relief techniques on cancer patients' recovery & survival rate. I'm so glad to see this new study! Thank you for sharing this!

    I firmly believe that effective stress management is critical for anyone's long-term health and well-being. Dr. Bruce Lipton and Dr. Bernie Siegel's work made it crystal clear that learning how to deal with the INTERNAL stress, i.e. the negative beliefs and self-defeating thoughts, is even more important than dealing with the external sources of stress. That's where life coaching can really help.

    As a former RN who cared for many terminal cancer patients and now a Certified Life Coach, I specialize in helping health care professionals, caregivers and other Nurturers reduce stress, practice Intensive Self-Care so they will have more inner peace, life balance, joy, and success. I've recently launched the Mindful Wellness life coaching & training program at a cancer center in NJ, helping cancer survivors, caregivers and their medical staff reduce stress. The medical doctor in charge understands the importance of stress reduction for his patients and staff's well-being. I hope more and more medical doctors and insurance companies will embrace it too, so more cancer patients and survivors can benefit.

    BTW, you can download a FREE Intensive Self-Care Kit and 7-part stress management video e-course on my site: http://www.IntensiveSelfCare.com

    Hueina Su, MS, BSN, CEC
    The Nurturer's Coach
    Bestselling Author, Intensive Care for the Nurturer's Soul: 7 Keys to Nurture Yourself While Caring for Others
    http://www.IntensiveSelfCare.com
    http://www.IntensiveSelfCareBook.com

    June 10, 2010 at 17:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. James C. Coyne, Ph.D.

    his is inaccurate and irresponsible reporting of a clinical trial that in basic statistics did not significantly improve survival. Breast cancer patients should not be mislead. If they wish to go to support groups or group therapy to get support, but they should not be mislead to believe that they are boosting their immune system in clinically significant ways or extending their lives.

    The investigators did not respond to my critique that appeared in the journal Cancer of their study.

    James C. Coyne, Ph.D.
    Director, Behavioral Oncology Program
    Abramson Cancer Center and
    Professor of Psychology
    Department of Psychiatry
    University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
    3535 Market St. Rm 676
    Philadelphia, PA 19104

    June 12, 2010 at 08:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Carla

    I just made a timeline on the treatment of breast cancer (http://timelines.com/topics/breast-cancer). This seems like an easy way to increase the livelihood and life longevity in patients with recurrent breast cancer!

    June 14, 2010 at 12:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Lauren

    It is so true, the less stress the better off those with breast cancer are. In attempts to fill in the gaps in care that leave men and women with breast cancer feeling distressed, share your experience at http://www.breastcancerregistry.org

    June 28, 2010 at 16:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Elijah Lewis

    Everyone really wants some good way of stress management. Yoga and meditation are good.*.:

    July 3, 2010 at 15:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Sofia Baker

    you can do some personal stress management at home by practicing yoga-`;

    September 28, 2010 at 03:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. RF Modulator :

    stress management is always needed in every setting, wether you are working in a home business or corporate environment,`*

    October 25, 2010 at 04:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Will C

    Why only Breast Cancer patients . The rest of us not suffer the IDENTICAL stress of having cancer ? What a stupid, biased study

    September 18, 2012 at 11:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Betsy Thompson

      You are so right Will!

      September 18, 2012 at 13:50 | Report abuse |
  33. Serafino Giambattista

    I am a stage 4 Lung Cancer survivor so I speak from experience when I say that every cancer is important and cruel. Now, the people who have written this article should be ashamed of themselves. How could you possibly omit every other cancer except breast cancer. I am sick and tired of hearing about breast cancer like it is the one & only. It is the best funded cancer research, that is all. And why, I do not know. Again, I cannot believe that a person in this world today can be this selfish and uncaring. Shame on you!!!!!

    September 18, 2012 at 11:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Betsy Thompson

      Thank you Serafino-Couldn't agree more!

      September 18, 2012 at 13:51 | Report abuse |
  34. Betsy Thompson

    This article is an outrage. To address only the stress experienced by breast cancer patients is discriminatory and cruel.
    ALL cancer patients suffer devastation and stress.Validation and support are key components in the cancer journey; something widely available to breast cancer patients and completely lacking for other cancers (especially Lung).
    To spend Research dollars for a "study" that any 2 year old could figure out (stress kills)...but then to focus it on ONE type of cancer? Wake up & smell the human misery of ALL cancer patients;many being denied as much (or little) as a support group.This article is socially, ethically and morally irresponsible. Shame on you.

    September 18, 2012 at 12:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Gayle

    I have stage 111b Non small cell lung cancer,and I just want to say ALL cancer is bad.There are more kinds of cancer then just breast cancer.I'm in remission but when i was diagnosed it didn't matter what kind of cancer the dr. said it was .It was Cancer and i just think there should be just as many walks and fundraisers for ALL cancers not just breast cancer.All cancer is Bad.So as I give all the glory to God in heaven for my remission I pray for a cure for all kinds of cancer not just one kind of cancer

    September 18, 2012 at 16:15 | Report abuse | Reply
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