Practicing Stress Management Improves Long-Term Mood, Quality of Life in Women with Breast Cancer

Results of a follow up study have shown that when women were taught stress management techniques early in their breast cancer treatment, their mood and quality of life continued to improve up to 15 years later.
BY Christina Izzo
PUBLISHED March 24, 2015
Results of a follow-up study have shown that when women were taught stress management techniques early in their breast cancer treatment, their mood and quality of life continued to improve up to 15 years later.

The study, published early online in CANCER, is a follow-up of a previously conducted trial where patients were followed for one year, and then five years.

“Women with breast cancer who participated in the study initially used stress management techniques to cope with the challenges of primary treatment to lower distress, “lead author Jamie Stagl,  who is currently at Massachusetts General Hospital, said in a statement. “Because these stress management techniques also give women tools to cope with fears of recurrence and disease progression, the present results indicate that these skills can be used to reduce distress and depressed mood and optimize quality of life across the survivorship period as women get on with their lives.”

In 2000, Michael Antoni, of the University of Miami, conducted a randomized trial to study the effects of a stress management intervention that he developed. In the original study, 199 women who were newly treated for stage 0-III breast cancer participated in a 10-week group cognitive behavior stress management intervention that included anxiety reduction (relaxation training), cognitive restructuring, and coping skills training.

After following these women for one year, the study found that women who participated in the intervention reported lower depressive symptoms and better quality of life than those in the control group. The same held true for the 240 patients who were examined for the five-year follow-up.

Stagl noted that breast cancer survivors in the stress management group reported levels of depression and quality of life at the 15-year follow-up that were similar to what is reported by women without breast cancer. The study also found that the intervention was helpful for women of various races and ethnic backgrounds.

"This is key given that ethnic minority women experience poorer quality of life and outcomes after breast cancer treatment,” says Stagl.

These current findings highlight the possibility that psychologists and social workers may be able to “inoculate” women with stress management skills early in treatment to help them maintain long-term psychosocial health.

“Because depressive symptoms have been associated with neuroendocrine and inflammatory processes that may influence cancer progression, our ongoing work is examining the effects of stress management on depression and inflammatory biomarkers on the one hand, and disease recurrence and survival on the other,” Antoni said in a statement.
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