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Mind-body therapies that include yoga, meditation, relaxation techniques, and guided imagery can help significantly in several ways and reduce stress. I would like to begin with, “Cancer Care for the Whole Patient”, a 2007 report written by the Institute of Medicine (IOM). The report offers guidelines and recommendations to medical caregivers. Here are abstracts:

Cancer care today often provides state-of-the-science biomedical treatment, but fails to address the psychological and social (psychosocial) problems associated with the illness. This failure can compromise the effectiveness of health care and thereby adversely affect the health of cancer patients. 

The burden of illnesses and disabilities in the United States and the world is closely related to social, psychological, and behavioral aspects of the way of life of the population. (IOM, 1982:49–50)

Health and disease are determined by dynamic interactions among biological, psychological, behavioral, and social factors. (IOM, 2001:16)

Because health … is a function of psychological and social variables, many events or interventions traditionally considered irrelevant actually are quite important for the health status of individuals and populations. (IOM, 2001:27)

According to the paper cited below and in previous blog posts, sustained stress has negative consequences on health because of its “profound” psychological, behavioral, and physiologic effects. Therefore it makes sense to decrease stress and help patients adjust to cancer treatment, the complications that occur, and the adverse reactions that are suffered. There could be implications in improving future health as well.

Yoga, meditation, relaxation techniques, and guided imagery are among the mind-body therapies that are now mainstream. An analysis of 116 studies (Journal of the Society of Integrative Oncology report) found that mind-body therapies reduced anxiety, depression, mood disturbance, and improved coping skills in patients.  In addition, there is further evidence to support the use of these therapies for hypertension, insomnia, nausea, reduction in procedural pain, decrease in stress hormones, and an improvement in immunity in cancer patients.

In a study that used a seven-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for breast and prostate cancer patients, there was a significant decrease in the cortisol and inflammatory cytokines levels versus the control group. The positive effects continued for 6-12 months after the training. MBSR includes meditation, yoga, and group dynamics.

In another yoga-based study on breast cancer (stage O-II) in India, 83% of women were undergoing radiotherapy and no chemotherapy. The study found improved quality of life, increase in natural killer cell toxicity and decreased inflammatory cytokines and cortisol levels in the yoga group versus the control group. Yoga included stretching, breathing, and meditation.

Similar results were found in a breast cancer study in India where women received yoga versus supportive therapy as they underwent conventional treatment which included chemotherapy. In the yoga group there was a significant decrease in the frequency and intensity of nausea related to chemotherapy. Patients reported better quality of life, mood, the natural killer cells were significantly higher in the yoga group and there was less DNA damage versus the control group.

These mind-body techniques need to be practiced regularly and as patients see the positive effects they feel a greater sense of control over their lives. They may be able to create a positive cycle that could be helpful in coping and treatment. Mind-body therapies can potentially transform the meaning of cancer and mitigate the stress it invariably brings.

Source: “Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guidelines for Integrative Oncology: Complementary Therapies and Botancials”, Journal of the Society of Integrative Oncology, Vol 7,  No 3 (Summer) 2009, pp: 85-120

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