Few things in life more devastating than being diagnosed with a malignancy. More than 12 million new cancer cases were recorded worldwide in 2008. According to the World Health Organization, those numbers seem to grow. In 1975, nearly 6 million people diagnosed with cancer. In 2000 that number had grown to 10 million. By the year 2030, it is estimated that more than 20 million people will be faced with this reality. On this site I regularly report on natural therapies that will hopefully protect against this undesirable fate. But it is also important to have resources available if the cancer is a personal matter for ourselves or someone we love. (1)
One of the most promising complementary therapies for cancer patients is meditation. Several new studies have shown this practice to be an important addition to both alternative and conventional recovery programs. Before the actual data, I want my goals, which are to clarify: 1) to the idea that only certain “special” forms of meditation can take away the health-promoting 2) to the role meditation can play in supporting the mental health of doctors and nurses, who in turn, can help patients to emphasize healing.
A recent study conducted at the St. Mary’s College in Fukuoka, Japan examined the effects of a mindfulness meditation-based therapy “on the mental health of 28 cancer patients. All participants received conventional” cancer “treatment in the course of the process. meditative therapy involved 2 sessions. First, an instructor taught patients the technique – which breathing exercises, meditation and yoga movements are involved. Patients these exercises at home with the help of a meditational CD. Measures of anxiety, depression and “spiritual welfare” were taken before and after treatment. Anxiety and depression scores decreased by about 30% in the meditation. But these results only give a partial picture of the apparent potential of mindfulness: (2)
- A study on women with “early stage breast cancer” from the August 2008 issue of the Brain Behavior and Immunology found that mindfulness-based stress reduction “(MBSR) self, the immune system (natural killer cell activity) and quality of life improved . A reduction of cortisol (a stress hormone) was also detected (3).
- A November 2007 study found that a mindfulness program can lower blood pressure, improve immune function, quality of sleep and less stress in a group of men and women with breast and prostate cancer. The results of this research is still visible at 1 year follow-up study. (4)
There is even some research that suggests that mindfulness can positively affect the levels of selected hormones (DHEA), the progression of certain hormonally-influenced cancers can affect. This is an exciting mechanism for meditation and stress management can improve outcomes in cancer survivors. (5)
One of the most popular forms of meditative practice is known as Transcendental Meditation (TM). In a study in the September 2009 edition of Integrative Cancer Therapies suggests that TM could be in favor of “older breast cancer patients. In this study, 130 women with a mean age of 64 assigned to one of two groups – a Transcendental Meditation group and a group that “standard care only” practiced. In the course of 18 months, both groups were assessed using standardized questionnaires. The women who work with TM reported dramatic improvements in several areas: emotional well-being, general mental health, quality of life and social welfare. The authors of the study offered the following concluding remarks. “It is recommended that this stress reduction program, with the ease of implementation and practice at home, be adopted in public health programs. “(6)
Yet another form of meditation called Yoga of Awareness (YA), was recently investigated in a similar context. The study, conducted at Oregon Health & Science University, set out to determine whether this practice would help to reduce treatment-related side effects in breast cancer survivors. YA is the use of breathing exercises, meditation and gentle yoga postures. In the course of 8 weeks, a group of 37 breast cancer survivors with medication-induced hot flushes participated in a YA program. Significant benefits were found at the end of the study. Among them were: decreased frequency and severity of hot flashes, lower levels of fatigue, joint pain, insomnia and “symptom-related bother”. The participants also reported feeling more “accepted” less negative moods, relaxed and powerful. The positive result was still evident when the researchers conducted a 3-month follow-up. (7)
If we go to the office of the doctor, we often worry about a few things. But the one thing we rarely consider is how the doctor feels. This may seem an unusual thing to think. After all, we probably would not find out how our mechanic or broker feels when we meet with them. But how a doctor and his nursing staff feel can profoundly affect how well they treat patients.
A study published in the September edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association offers hope for doctors who feel burned out and discouraged. A “before and after study of 70 GPs” found that taking an 8-week course in mindfulness meditation, followed by a 10 month “maintenance” phase, resulted in a significant improvement in the way the doctors felt and how well they care for their patients. The doctors reported feeling less emotional exhaustion, more confidence and empathy. Improvements in mood and emotional stability were also found. Recent studies involving both nurses and physicians is also found decreased anxiety and stress that the practice of various forms of meditative practices (mindfulness and the “passage” mediation). The study on “passage meditation” (also known as the technique Easwaran) concluded that this practice “health concern self-efficacy improves, and may deserve inclusion in training curricula. (8,9,10)
All types of meditation, I said today differ in some important ways. Some of the practices recommended learning through professional instruction only. Others incorporate philosophical and spiritual elements. There are even some that allow you to practice based on your own comfort to change. I think many kinds of meditation proved correct, so the differences are not so important. I think the key is to select a practice that has a good reputation and can reasonably be included in your daily life. For me, that is what is most important.