Group Therapy Reduces Breast Cancer Death Risk

A recently completed study at Ohio State University suggests that group psychotherapy and psychoeducation can increase breast cancer survival rates in women by helping them develop better coping skills.

Barbara Anderson’s research team studied 227 women, about half of whom participated in four months of weekly, eight- to 10-member group therapy sessions and eight months of monthly meetings with the same people. All subjects were diagnosed with Stage 2 or 3 cancer, meaning their illness was fairly advanced. The therapy was provided after breast surgery but before chemotherapy or radiation had begun.

The group sessions offered methods for reducing stress, relaxation techniques, coping skills, diet charts, exercise guidelines, and support for quitting smoking and alcohol.

After 11 years, women who received therapy had reduced their chance of dying by more than half, and their chances of relapse by almost that much. When the infrequent attendees were excluded, the remainder had a 68% reduced risk of breast cancer death.

Among patients who died of breast cancer, those who participated in groups lived an average of 1.3 years longer than those who were simply assessed.

The findings should be taken with a grain of salt, as past studies have been contradictory. Michael Stefanek of the American Cancer Society said, “Psychological interventions have been found in the majority of well-controlled studies to enhance quality of life and reduce distress. It would not be reasonable for patients to participate in psychological interventions with the goal of extending survival.”

The study was published in the December 15, 2008 issue of the journal Cancer, and is part of the long-running Stress and Immunity Breast Cancer Project at Ohio State.

© Copyright 2008 by Daniel Brezenoff, Licensed Clinical Social Worker. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jenina

    December 7th, 2008 at 6:51 PM

    For most terminally ill people, a therapist helps them stay focussed on the current time. While staying focussed on today, new hope can be instilled about tomorrow. Noone should approach therapy with longevity in mind but with an attitude on improving the quality of life, today.

  • jeni

    December 8th, 2008 at 3:53 AM

    It can’t be stressed more than it is here how important therapy is to everyday life. I am glad to hear that these studies show how breast cancer can benefit from therapy. The reduction in death rate is very significant, by more than one half, is very enlightening and gives us reason to do therapy.

  • Tiff

    December 8th, 2008 at 3:56 AM

    I would definitely undergo therapy if I ever had breast cancer, or any kind of cancer if I knew that it would cut my chances in dying by this much. It’s very nice to hear that there is something out there that can help cancer patients

  • Diane

    December 9th, 2008 at 1:49 AM

    Its nice how therapy is helping with breast cancer patients. It would be nice to know if similar research is on for other health conditions to prove how positive therapy can be.

  • Kaleigh

    December 9th, 2008 at 3:55 AM

    My mom currently has breast cancer and is undergoing chemo and radiation treatments. We had hoped this would be enough but after reading this I am definitely going to encourage her to also find a good therapist. This could certainly help her to cope with many other emotional issues that have arisen as a result of this devastating diagnosis and I can see very clearly how one with a more clear and focused state of mind could indeed have better chances for survival. It is not always mind over matter, but having a healthy frame of mind certainly never hurt anyone right? I love to read many of the articles here as many are so informative and useful, and I have finally found one that hits me right at home and is going to encourage me to make a difference for my family. Thank you.

  • Claude

    December 10th, 2008 at 4:02 AM

    My wife died from breast cancer several years ago and I have long thought that maybe if she had had some kind of support group for her than maybe she would have done better with some of the treatments. We lived in a small town where access to these kinds of things were very limited and quite frankly some days it was a struggle for both of us to keep going, much less her with all of the sickness caused by the treatment. She became very depressed toward the end, knowing all that she was leaving behind and was never really able to resolve for herself that it would be ok for her to die. I miss her every day and hope that this is something that other breast cancer patients will pursue to make that painful journey a little less so.

  • Grayson

    December 11th, 2008 at 4:05 AM

    Does this mean that more oncology docs will start referring their patients to counselors and therapists, even psychiatrists, after treatment? Probably not.

  • Leeza

    December 12th, 2008 at 4:14 AM

    Cancer is hard no matter what. It affects both, the patient and the family. I too live in a small town and have a friend who’s spouse had died from cancer. they had to travel over an hour just to go to a specialist. It’s tough not being able to have the resources you need in a small town and I can only imagine how hard it is for the patient to have to travel such long distance, only to get help.

  • Cat

    December 13th, 2008 at 12:49 PM

    My mom was a part of a study group a few years ago that tracked participation in support groups such as these that were for women with breast cancer. These were such strong women, ready to be there for and support one another and every single one of them has had dramatic survival rates, and I chalk that up to so much more than just the radiation and chemo. They were a lifeline for one another through the good and bad times and they had others with them who completely understood what each other was going through. I want to see more studies like this gain funding and get the recognition they deserve becasue I strongly feel that this group is a big reason why my mom is still here with me today.

  • Siobhan

    December 20th, 2008 at 4:00 PM

    Talking is sometimes just not enough.

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